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 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 feedlots, they achieve this in 5-6 months. Because feedlots 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—not corn—into meat and milk.
When cows digest corn, the corn’s high starch content 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 won’t respond to medications that are meant to help them, as happened in one recent salmonella outbreak in California. The most dangerous aspect of all of this is that we may 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.
Source: Susan Cosier, “Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Seen in Wildlife…Again,” OnEarth Magazine (Natural Resources Defense Council), November 7, 2013, http://www.onearth.org/articles/2013/11/oh-poop-wildlife-shows-signs-of-antibiotic-resistance.
See also: King Corn (Dir. Aaron Woolf, Mosaic Films, 2007), http://www.kingcorn.net/.
Student Researchers: Adrian Allen and Jordan Marshall (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot Cohen (Indian River State College)