Sunday, March 4, 2007

Cattle, Drugs, and Family Farms

Or, why collectivization doesn't work well whether driven by a five-year plan or market demands for cheap beef.

Have I mentioned that I grew up on a small farm? Have I ranted yet about why small farms are superior to large-scale operations? I don't think that I have. Now to rememdy that.

It looks like the FDA is going to approve a new antibiotic to treat bovine respiratory disease -- cefquinome. The problem -- this drug, or a drug related to it is used as a last ditch antibiotic in humans when the bacteria are immune to everything else. Using in cattle would increase the chances of a resistant strain evolving. (Hmm, maybe that's why they're passing it. To ban it would be to acknowledge evolution and hurt James Dobson's feelings.) And resistant strains are a bad thing. Even I know this. And I'm a Religious Studies major!

I doubt the FDA is spurred on by pictures of sick calves; although, trust me, few things in life are more pitiful than a sick calf. Probably they weren't because their are already drugs on the market that work to knock out bovine respiratory disease. Granted, I'm trusting the Washington Post, I didn't dial up my uncle to inquire as to how well the old drugs work, but then it's possible that he doesn't have to use them as much as Old McDonald, who has a factory farm.
The panel also learned that the disease would be a relatively minor issue but for the stressful conditions under which U.S. cattle are raised, including high-density living spaces and routine shipment on crowded trains for hundreds or thousands of miles. Those "production dynamics" suppress the animals' immune systems, explained feedlot consultant Kelly Lechtenberg of Oakland, Neb., and virtually guarantee that bovine respiratory disease will be a major problem.
So we see, my friends, that other than the ethical issues of factory farms, there are definite pragmatic concerns. Like raising a not sick steer. And reducing the need for an overuse of drugs and whatever else they pump the poor things full of these days. (I sometimes wonder if my relative lack of health problems isn't just due to having spent a lot of time as a kid running around the back pastures drinking untreated spring water -- I have an immune system -- but also has something to do with the main source of meat in my diet being the swaybacked calves who weren't going to sell at market and my dad and uncle just had slaughtered by a neighbor, therefore skipping the feedlot and drugs and such.) And my family's operation isn't perfect, as the steers are sent to a feedlot before their final stop, but it'll be a hell of a lot easier to convert the small farm operations back into something that resembles an ethical system.

Calves should not be cramped up in small pens. They are as dumb as rocks, and I feel no qualms about eating them, but they are sweet critters who don't deserve a shitty life and a mishandled death. Seriously, I'm getting to the point where I'm only going to eat meat if I personally know who raised and who killed it, so I know it was accomplished in the most humane manner possible. It's enough to make me what to move back to Hampshire.

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