During the past thirty years the agriculture industry has attempted to turn the cow into the perfect food-producing machine. In an attempt to maximize beef and milk production, while simultaneously lowering costs, the diets of beef and dairy cattle have been altered from mostly grass to mostly corn and corn byproducts. This change in diet has led to many severe adverse effects in the health of the animals which are then transferred to humans who consume the meat and milk.
During World War II there was an excess in the production of corn so it was fed to live stock. Farmers found that corn fed cows grew larger and heavier at a much faster rate than they did with grass. Before the corn diet, it took a cow 4-5 years to reach slaughter weight. Now, on modern feed lots, they achieve this in 5-6 months. Because feed lots restrict their movements, the animals have a much higher fat to lean muscle ratio. The meat from corn fed cows has been found to contain a level of saturated fat many times higher than their grass fed counterparts. A cow’s digestive system has evolved to process grass into meat and milk, not corn.
When corn is digested by a cow, the high starch content of the corn alters the normal PH levels in the stomach. This causes a buildup of acid known as acidosis. Acidosis is a life threatening ailment for cows. The solution was to introduce antibiotics into the cow’s diet. It’s been estimated that livestock now consume 70% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. The introduction of antibiotics to the equation then leads to other negative effects, such as the formation of Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria transferred to consumers through the meat.
The bacteria that live in these animals’ digestive tracks can trade genes with antibiotic-resistant bacteria to produce even more “superbugs.” The people who consume these bacteria, such as the recent salmonella outbreak in California, won’t react to the medications that are meant to help them. The most dangerous part of all of this is if we reach a time when even last-line drugs won’t work and routine sicknesses become life threatening. These “nightmare bacteria” may cause a pandemic where even the most top-of-the-line antibiotics won’t help anyone.
King Corn. Dir. Aaron Woolf. Mosaic Films, 2009. Film.
Kiernan, Bill. http://www.globalaginvesting.com. Global AgInvesting • 300 Rosewood Drive • Suite 30 • Danvers, MA 01923 • USA. Website.
Cosier, Susan. “Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Seen in Wildlife … Again | OnEarth Magazine.” 18 Nov. 2013. http://www.onearth.org/articles/2013/11/oh-poop-wildlife-shows-signs-of-antibiotic-resistance
Student Researchers – Adrian Allen, Indian River State College; Jordan Marshall, Indian River State College
Faculty Evaluator – Elliot Cohen Ph.D., Indian River State College
This account of beef and milk production contains multiple issues which would raise ethical alarms if they were to be reported in the mainstream media. The first issue raised is the questionable ethics involved in the treatment of animals. Another issue at hand is the motive behind these practices and how they relate to the systems of ethics that have been discussed in class. Finally, the ethics of how these issues should be handled will be examined.
Mistreating animals for any reason is immoral, even more so when the reason behind it is financial gain. However, that is the precise reason behind the systematic poisoning of millions of cattle every year. There have been some philosophers and ethicists such as Aristotle and Descartes who believed that humans have no moral duty to protect the rights of animals. Some others, such as Thomas Aquinas, believed that cruelty to animals in and of itself is not wrong. This viewpoint most likely had some connection to the man’s religious beliefs. Modern philosophers tend to uphold that animals have the right to not be abused. Peter Singer declared that humans have a “tyranny over nonhuman animals,” in his book Animal Liberation. Other philosophers such as Tom Regan believe that animals should be treated not merely as means to an end, but as ends in themselves. In fact, it was Jeremy Bentham who first included animals and humans in his definition of “everyone” when calculating pain and pleasure in utilitarian ethics. A diet high in corn is toxic to a cow. It leads to a brief and painful life without the addition of antibiotics. Natural law theory states that the morally right action is the one that follows the dictates of nature. It would seem that nature is stating quite clearly that cows shouldn’t eat corn.
The motive behind the practice of feeding corn and corn silage to beef and dairy cattle is to reduce costs and increase profits. If we subscribe to the ethical beliefs that animals are to be treated not as a means to an end, and if their pain must be calculated when considering the greater good, then the people and companies committing the actions must be labeled as ethical egoists. Egoists believe that the best action is the one that benefits oneself the most. Clearly, this definition would fit the situation. Unless it becomes profitable for cattle to be given a nontoxic diet we cannot expect an egoist to ever commit to it. When considering why these issues aren’t reported on the mainstream media, one could infer that many media outlets follow a rule-egoist system. The act of reporting on highly controversial issues involving the nation’s food source could fall under a rule which says those types of actions usually bring a less favorable outcome. So as a rule, it is to be avoided.
In light of these issues and the codes of ethics they violate, the inevitable question is how to respond to them and which system of ethics should be followed. If someone were to be a consequentialist, an argument could be made that the consequences of feeding corn and antibiotics to cattle causes health risks in the people who consume the meat and milk. Higher fat content and antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria can contribute to the deaths of consumers. Those deaths cause pain and suffering to the people around them.
As a consumer it is important to realize that your dollar is a vote. In order to change something about a certain product you only need deny your vote for one product or cast it for another. This system of voting is the best way to let an egoistic industry know what kind of product you want and in what manner you want it to be produced.