Posts Tagged ‘cows’

E. Coli Revisited

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

So I was just doing some casual reading on Slate about E. coli in ground beef… you know, how it seems to pop up seemingly more and more frequently, resulting in massive recalls (such as this week’s Huntington Meat Company recall of 5.7 million pounds of beef and veal). I always wonder how the average reader reacts to these stories. Going back to my pre-vegan days, I can only speculate that Joe Six-pack kinda shakes his head, double checks the fridge to make sure he’s safe, and then hopes they figure out how to fix it in the future.

The meat industry sure is trying. I’d be willing to bet that these big recalls are a bit embarrassing to them, not only because of what it says about the laxness of food safety regulations, but also because it lifts the veil for a few days every time this happens. It makes us actually think about how that meat gets to the shelf. We get to read about how E. coli lives in the intestinal tracts of real living cows, and how these outbreaks are usually caused by those cows’ feces splattering up on their dead carcasses and not getting cleaned off well enough. Maybe that is the most embarassing thing to Cargill and Huntington and factory farmers across the land, but I bet they are a bit nervous about us thinking about the process at all.

Even when things are going well (as you might expect me to say), the ground beef industry is not pretty. Big Ag doesn’t really want us to worry too much about the well-being of the cows, what they eat, how they are killed, or how they try to deal with that pesky E. coli. They just want us to want those burgers. In order for that to happen, it is best that things are kept simple. No more outbreaks would be a big help. That would keep food safety advocates out of their hair, cut down on public outcries for more regulation and federal interference, and get them sued less often. So, what are they doing about it now?

Well, they are developing a whole new arsenal of weapons to battle E. coli. USA Today filled us in on some of the plans last week:

  • More vaccines
  • Phages (a “a car-wash-like spray of bacteria-eating viruses” that cows are doused in 1-4 hours before slaughter)
  • New probiotics (bacteria to compete with E. coli in cow stomachs)
  • Sodium chlorate (a chemical that turns to bleach inside a cow to kill the E. coli)
  • Feeding cows hay and grass, instead of grain (which is natural but, according to Slate, not a real solution)

These measure would be in addition to the barrage of antibiotics, steam sprays, vaccines, and who-knows-what that the cows already endure (not to mention the lovely ammonia treatment I wrote about a while ago). It seems apparent that the beef pushers are going to great lengths to fight E. coli. That way we don’t have to think about CAFOs, slaughterhouses, manure-caked hides, acidic stomachs, bloody-diarrhea-kidney-failure-and-death, a cow’s recto-anal junction, vaccines, phages, sodium chlorate, antiobiotics, government subsidies, ammonia processing, the food system, lawsuits, agriculture lobbies, methane, O157:H7, water contamination, veal crates,  manure lagoons……………..

All this effort for a $2.99 (or whatever the hell they cost) Big Mac. Perhaps there is another way to keep E. coli at bay: don’t eat beef.


Cows and Methane. Heating up.

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment


Today’s Morning Edition on NPR had a great story on one of the most overlooked causes of global warming: methane. They even mentioned (although it was almost completely glossed over) how about half of all methane released is from human-related causes including belching cows.

Molecule for molecule, methane is much more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. And that’s just part of the trouble.

Methane-releasing wetlands are largely to blame for the 150% (since pre-industrial times) increase in methane floating up to the atmosphere, and they are showing the first signs of the vicious cycle of the greenhouse effect:

“The higher the temperature, the more efficient they are at producing methane,” he says. So global warming is causing these wetlands to produce more methane. And the methane is causing more global warming.

Little has been done to control methane because, apparently, governments and climate-change policy makers have been afraid of diverting attention away from the threats of carbon dioxide. But NPR’s story mentions how methane-reducing initiatives would pay for themselves because of the myriad other benefits to public health and the energy sector.

So here’s what I think: isn’t it obvious why governments are afraid to demonize methane? If you read last month’s Mother Jones article on the most powerful lobby in Washington, the reasons are clear. The industry with the most clout? BIG AG. The agriculture lobby. Any legislation fighting global warming would certainly threaten the meat and dairy industries because of how much they rely on oil, and the amount of methane they release through their milk-machines (aka COWS). So this may never happen, but it would make sense to me for many reasons if:

  • COW TAX: put a tax on every gallon of milk. Milk is already at unsustainably low prices, so this wouldn’t even hurt milk-drinkers. I would advocate for a big increase in the price of milk to reflect the damage it causes the environment and public health. It would lower demand and make people think twice about that white liquid, which they have grown up hearing is as pure and harmless as fluffy snow. I’m no economist, but it just makes sense to me. Revenue from these taxes should go to further climate change initatives.

Given the power of big Ag money in Washington, the political suicide it would take for any Rep or Congressperson to take a shot at Big Food, and the fact that almost all Americans have been brainwashed into believing that we actually need milk to be healthy, I do not have high hopes for this grand scheme of mine. But I do hope that more and more people start seeing through the clouds of BS we have been fed in milk-industry ads, and school-lunch-program pints of chocolate milk, and realize there are other options. The 8 ounces of Pacific Foods Organic Oat Milk I had with my cereal this morning had 35% of my daily calcium, as well as good amounts of Vitamins A and D. Soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, and others boast similar nutrition stats, or better! There are many other reasons (taste among them) that I think cow milk is an obsolete foodstuff, but I’ll leave the nasty bits up to PETA and the shock-value vegans. To me, this is about common sense, and not being lied to. Encourage your friends to educate themselves and opt out of the dairy addiction.

Manure Management: New Mexico’s Dairy Row

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

From today’s Morning Edition on NPR:

Farms dispose of waste in two ways.

First, workers hose the muck off the concrete floor of a milking barn, and it flows into a plastic- or clay-lined lagoon where the liquid evaporates.

Second, waste from the feedlot where the cows live is collected and used as fertilizer for grain crops.

But the New Mexico Environment Department reports that two-thirds of the state’s 150 dairies are contaminating groundwater with excess nitrogen from cattle excrement. Either the lagoons are leaking, or manure is being applied too heavily on farmland.

On Dairy Row along Interstate 10 between Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso, Texas, more than 30,000 cows live in 11 farms located one after the other.

In the past four years, the EPA has repeatedly cited these dairies for violating the Clean Water Act because manure-laced stormwater was washing into tributaries of the Rio Grande.


Everyday, an average cow produces six to seven gallons of milk and 18 gallons of manure. New Mexico has 300,000 milk cows. That totals 5.4 million gallons of manure in the state every day. It’s enough to fill up nine Olympic-size pools. Every single day.

That’s a lot of poo, eh?