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The Modern Day Food Industry

Author: Stewart Hare

The modern food industry rears its animals, grows its crops, manufactures and markets its foods with the impetus to cut costs, produce and sell more products. To make profit they disregard animal welfare, promote unhealthy eating and advice, contaminate the land and livestock with pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics and go against laws of Mother Nature with genetic engineering and irradiated foods. Whilst the companies involved within the food industry are making fat profits, the majority of western societies are also getting fatter and unhealthier. Rich western country such as the Unites States and Britain are spending billions on curing degenerated diseases such as cancer, in fact the cure rate has not gone down and maybe a percentage of the money should be spent in research on why people are getting sick in the first place. Such research would no doubt bring up questions about the food we eat and modern day food industry practices.

Animal welfare is the price to pay by intensive methods of production that modern day food industry uses to increases rates of production. Every day 100,000 broiler chickens die prematurely in UK farms due to the methods that they use to increase productivity. In the UK 70 per cent of the 29 million egg-laying birds are housed in battery cages, 35 million British Turkeys are fattened in cramped sheds that contain up to 25,000 birds which results in many ailments caused by overcrowding and 500,000 sows are kept indoors in cramped conditions throughout their lives which causes them to suffer from muscle weakness and lameness. Modern day dairy cows are bred to produce as much milk as possible and when either infertility or ill health set in (partly due by their welfare conditions) they are no longer of use and are culled. This is normally only after 5 years.

For nearly 50 years now antibiotics have been used in farming as growth promoters and it is now coming to light the negative affects that it has on human health. In the UK most intensively reared animals are given antibiotics on a daily basis. This is mainly as a preventive measure or to treat illness but some are given as growth promoters. The bacteria that live in these animals quickly become resistant to antibiotics. The antibiotics used for animals are similar to those used to combat human health problems and it is becoming more evident that there is a cross-over effect with the bacteria that cause illness in humans. Human bacteria are becoming more resistant to the antibiotics that we use, thus reducing affective treatments.

The genetic modification (GM) of food involves the artificial insertion of a foreign gene into the genetic material of an organism to create a food substance which is more economical to product. There are presently two types of GM crops, one to be resistant to herbicides in order to kill weeds and the other has been engineered to produce toxins to kill pests. In 1996 the first GM crop was grown in the US, now three quarters of the worlds GM crops are grown in North America. Soya and maize are the main GM crops grown in the US and oilseed rape is grown in Canada. Advocates of GM crops claim that GM crops can provide a solution to world hunger with higher yields and are better for the environment because of their need for less herbicides and pesticides but in reality every benefit claimed by GM crops has not happened but many problems have occurred. The facts are that GM crops do not increase yields and do not reduce the use of herbicides. GM and organic crops can not co-exist, in Saskatchewan Canada GM contamination wiped out the whole organic rape seed sector. In the US many people reported allergic reaction to GM Starlink maize which then had to be recalled with the estimated cost of $1 billion.

Pesticides are chemical substances that are used in modern farming to kill or control pests. Although there are some naturally occurring pesticide used in modern farming the majority are made from synthetic chemicals. The usage of pesticides increased after the Second World War to increase food production. In the UK it is estimated that over 4.5 billion litres of pesticides are used in farming. Pesticides have a harmful effect on the environment and on people's health. They have a major affect on wildlife and are not only toxic to the pests that they target and beneficial species but also to the whole food chain and ecosystem including humans. Pesticides can affect human health, farmers and farm workers are especially venerable to short term poisoning and long term chronic illnesses. Some pesticides are non-toxic when used on their own but combined with other pesticides they can become extremely toxic. Organophosphate are probably the most dangerous pesticides that are used in modern farming, they have been linked to cancer, Parkinson's disease, decreased male fertility, chronic fatigue syndrome in children and foetal abnormalities.

Food irradiation is the process of food being exposed to doses of ionising energy or radiation to extend shelf life and to kill insects, bacteria, moulds and other harmful organisms. Advocates of food irradiation claim that it is safe but the real problem arises with how fresh and safe the food is, as food inspectors have no way of telling if the food is old or contaminated with food poisoning causing bacteria. Irradiation destroys vitamin C, vitamin E and the B complex of vitamins, it can cause unpleasant changes in texture, colour and taste and not enough is known about its long term affects on human health.

In conclusion, I feel that modern day food industry is motivated by profit and greed and as a result animal welfare, the environment and human health are suffering. I feel that if a check on the way that the food industry produces its products is not implemented then further damage will be done to the environment and we will also see further increases in degenerative disease such as cancer and more human suffering.


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