Program April 2012 – The High Cost of Cheap Meat

April 12, 2012

The High Cost of Cheap Meat – Revamping Our Food System for the Future

Speaker: Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director, Missouri Coalition for the Environment


“We have to rethink our entire food system,” warned Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, at our April 12 meeting. The coalition works on issues of clean water, air, and energy; farm policy; and wetlands and flood plains. In a discussion of “the high cost of cheap meat,” she showed how all these issues are related in food production practices that are bankrupting our soil, water, and health. In Missouri, the state legislature is greatly influenced by agricultural lobbyists and the Missouri Farm Bureau, with disastrous effects:

  • CAFOs raise animals (mostly pigs and chickens in Missouri) in such tight quarters that they must use feed containing antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease and add weight faster, contributing to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
  • CAFOs generate huge amounts of animal waste that are contaminating waterways. Missouri does not have effective laws regulating agricultural pollution, nor does it require smaller CAFOs to obtain permits, which would prescribe setbacks from wells, limits on pollutants, and other precautions.
  • Corn growers are heavily subsidized by tax money. Herbicides and pesticides used in corn production deplete the soil. Along with fertilizers, they pollute waterways, lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. The result is dead zones where fish cannot live because excessive algae growth depletes the oxygen in the water.
  • Farmers cut down trees to plant as much corn as possible, causing alarming loss of soil due to erosion. Missouri is one of the top five states in the country for soil loss.
  • Big Agriculture’s pervasive use of Roundup results in the killing of soil microorganisms, disrupting soil ecosystems.

Smith noted that pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides are all made from fossil fuels. Our destructive food production system has evolved in only 50 years, and it can be reversed if we act quickly, she said. Here’s what we can do:

  • Advocate for a Farm Bill that includes compliance with conservation standards and attaches conservation strings to a “revenue insurance” proposal that guarantees a farmer’s income if the market goes down. [The current Farm Bill expires September 2012 and is currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.]
  • Change our food-buying habits. Buy organic, locally grown food from farmer’s markets or small-scale farmers, and buy only free-range, pasture-raised meat.
  • Support enforcement of environmental protections and penalties for violators.

For more information:
Missouri Coalition for the Environment
The Izaak Walton League of America
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
House Committee on Agriculture