By Dr. Mercola

With the advent of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which can house tens of thousands of animals in a factory-style environment, the price of chicken dropped dramatically.1

Chicken quickly became the cheapest meat available in the US, and as a result, consumption has doubled since 1970. Unfortunately, experience makes it clear that it’s virtually impossible to mass-produce clean, safe, optimally nutritious foods at rock bottom prices.

Ninety-nine percent of all chicken sold in the US are raised in CAFOs, and sickness and poor nutrition is the norm for animals raised in these inhumanely cramped warehouse facilities.

CAFO chickens are also typically fed genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans, which is a far cry from their natural diet of seeds, green plants, insects, and worms. Processing byproducts such as chicken feathers and other animal parts can also be added to the feed—all of which exacerbates disease.

To control the still-inevitable spread of disease from stress, overcrowding, lack of vitamin D (as CAFO chickens may never see the light of day) and an unnatural diet, the animals are routinely fed antibiotics.

CAFO Chicken Promotes Drug-Resistant Disease

Agricultural use of antibiotics poses a direct threat to human health by promoting the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant disease—both in animals and in humans. Antibiotics also contaminate the environment when they run off into lakes, rivers, aquifers and drinking water, further increasing the risk of drug-resistant bacteria.

According to a landmark “Antibiotic Resistance Threat Report” published by the CDC,2 two million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections.

Factory farmed chicken is by far the greatest culprit when it comes to food poisoning. Data collected by the federal agency called NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System reveals that 39 percent of raw chicken parts are contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) attribute nearly 133,000 illnesses each year to contaminated chicken parts. Remember, 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the US are actually fed to farm animals.

One US School District Decides to Switch to Antibiotic-Free Chicken

While many are still unfamiliar with the hazards of CAFO chicken and other meats, awareness is definitely growing. Case in point: six of the largest school districts in the US have decided to switch to antibiotic-free chicken in their cafeterias.

The school districts in question are: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami-Dade County, and Orlando County. It’s a bold move, which is putting pressure on meat companies like Tyson, Perdue, and Pilgrim’s Pride to adjust their production practices. As reported by Reuters:3

“The move... is intended to protect children's health amid concerns about the rise of so-called ‘superbugs,’ bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines, school officials said...

The six districts, which served at least 2.6 million meals last year, hope to limit costs by combining their purchasing power...

School officials are demanding the change after meeting with industry experts and ‘really understanding how this affects the human body overall and our future with antibiotic resistance,’ said Leslie Fowler, executive director of nutrition support services for the Chicago Public Schools.”

While it may take years before the new standard is fully implemented, it’s certainly a decision that will drive the food industry in the right direction. And, it’s worth noting that the school districts didn’t wait for the federal government to approve new antibiotic-free industry standards. Instead, they got it done by banding together and simply demanding the change.

Fast Food Chains Are Also Making Changes

Positive changes are also afoot in other areas. Earlier this year, Chick-fil-A vowed to switch to antibiotic-free chicken within the next five years. Chipotle is another franchise that serves responsibly raised beef steaks.

Most recently, restaurant chain Carl's Jr. announced it intends to become the first major fast-food chain to offer burgers made with grass-fed, free-range beef, promising to be free of antibiotics, steroids, and hormones. The “All-Natural Burger” was rolled out on December 17 at all 1,150 of its restaurants. As reported by USA Today:4

“The strategic move by the regional chain with mostly West Coast locations comes at a time fast-food chains are racing to improve the perceived quality of their food...

‘Our objective has never been to tell people what to eat, but to serve them what they want to eat,’ says Andy Puzder, CEO at CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains.”

The grass-fed beef for Carl’s Jr. restaurants will be imported from Australia, which isn’t a major surprise. Most of the grass-fed beef sold in the US is actually imported, primarily from Australia and New Zealand5 Chipotle’s grass-fed offerings also come from Australia.6

According to one estimate based off of the USDA’s import/export data,7,8,9 as much as 85 percent of grass-fed beef sold in the US may be imported, although it’s virtually impossible to ascertain a definite number.

Hopefully, as the market begins to shift, American suppliers of grass-fed beef will become better able to meet demand and compete with Australia’s lower prices.

Organic, Pastured Chicken Is Your Best and Safest Alternative

True free-range chickens (and eggs) come from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture, where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms. Your best source for pastured chicken, beef, and other animal products, is a local farmer that allows his animals to forage freely outdoors.

To see how this looks in the real world, please watch my video (above) with organic farmer Joel Salatin, which was recorded on his Polyface Farm in Virginia. Joel and I recently presented at the ACRES conference in Columbus earlier this month.

Shifting into a socially responsible, smaller-scale system where independent producers and processors focus on providing food for their local and regional markets would go a long way toward improving food safety and nutrition. It would also have a positive impact on the environment. Below are a number of suggestions for how you can take affirmative action to protect your family’s health, and by so doing, promote the creation of a safer, more humane, and more nutritious food system for everyone:

Buy local products whenever possible. Otherwise, buy organic and fair-trade products.

Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food.

Avoid genetically engineered (GMO) foods. Buying certified organic ensures your food is non-GM.

Cook, can, ferment, dry, and freeze. Return to the basics of cooking, and pass these skills on to your children.

Grow your own garden, or volunteer at a community garden. Teach your children how to garden and where their food comes from.

Volunteer and/or financially support an organization committed to promoting a sustainable food system.

Get involved in your community. Influence what your child eats by engaging the school board. Effect city policies by learning about zoning and attending city council meetings. Learn about the federal policies that affect your food choice, and let your congressperson know what you think.

Shop at your local farmers market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to selling local foods. The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane, sustainable manner:

Local Harvest: This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.

Farmers' Markets: A national listing of farmers' markets.

Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals: The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA): CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.

FoodRoutes: The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.

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