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Free Range Chickens being fed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When discussing Modern farming methods versus traditional
Chicken farming one of the most glaring issues that must be considered is the
impact on our environment. As has often been stated, we only have one planet,
best we take care of it. The effects of mass production chicken farming have
been well documented and yet are still cause for debate. As with most issues
associated with this subject passions tend to run at a feverish pitch. Those
for and against, modern farming methods have much at stake. In this article, I
will endeavor to give you simple, documented, facts without venturing into
Traditional (free range) Chicken Farming
With the traditional Chicken Farming Methods, birds and
their waste was spread over a wide area and was based on a natural diet.
Chickens grazed consuming grasses, seeds and insects. The supplemental food
they were given was also based on natural sources, cracked corn, local grown
grains and waste vegetables from gardens.
The Poultry waste from these birds was actually beneficial
to the environment.They reprocessed
nutrients from their food and returned them to the environment in a manner that
helped enrich the soil. Thus preventing soil degradation and assuring a healthier
growing environment for the food that would, eventually, feed them and their
owners. A shortened food cycle but one based on the sound ecological practices
of a balanced environment and conservation of resources.
Modern Poultry Facts
Annual production of fecal waste from poultry flocks was 8.8
million tons on a dry weight basis plus more than 106,000 metric tons of
broiler hatchery waste. Add to this 37 million dead birds and condemnations at
processing plants (figures are from USDA for 1989 based on USDA National
Statistics Survey). These figures are 14 years old. Since they were released
the USDA has greatly reduced its public output of such information. This leaves
us having to make some conclusions by supposition.
The American poultry Industry has shown a 30
percent growth rate per decade over the last two decades. Consider 14 years
as roughly 1.5 decades this means a waste output of 12.76 million tons of fecal
waste and 53.65 million dead birds. These numbers are being kind to the
Unfortunately for the environment this waste is no longer
spread over a wide area as it once was. Modern Poultry Farms are based on
maximizing production, while maintaining as small a foot print as possible.
This means more waste contained in a smaller area and altering the nature of
the chickens' diet to increase growth rate. Altering their diet means altering
Commercial Chicken feed is no longer the natural product of
their environment. Today's high growth feeds contain hormone and steroid
precursors to increase growth rate. High antibiotic
content to reduce losses due to diseases in the flock and arsenic
to promote growth, reduce parasites, and give the meat that nice rosy glow that
consumers have come to associate with fresh chicken. Hormones and steroids will
be discussed in a later article. Our primary focus will be on the arsenic and
antibiotic content of poultry feed.
High doses of antibiotics are used to protect flocks grown
in very aseptic conditions. Overcrowding and an environment high in waste
products, create an environment where diseases could run rampant and cause a
sever loss of income to a farmer. To combat this extremely high doses of
antibiotics are administered to the chickens in their feed. The primary concern
with this process from an ecological stand point is that, viruses, bacteria and
other microscopic organisms are highly adaptive. You provide them with a
perfect breeding ground and then attack them with antibiotics they will quickly
adapt and become resistant to that antibiotic. Witness the recent outbreaks of
or Bird flues and E Coli that have become increasingly difficult to combat
as they have become more and more antibiotic resistant. These antibiotic
resistant organisms reaching us, the people, are a direct result of the feeding
methods and waste management protocols in modern poultry farming.
Arsenic in Poultry Feed
finds its way into poultry by way of feed. Nitarsone and similar arsenic based
drugs have been used in the United States since the 1930's. Since that time it
has been used to control parasites, promote growth and add pigment to the meat.
The arsenic used in feed is an organic type found in nature but problems arise
when it passes through the digestive tract of the chickens and then is
deposited in the chickens Feces. Through a process of inorganic digestion, this
organic arsenic is converted to an inorganic type that not only is a known
carcinogen but is also water soluble.
These two Quotes speak for themselves. Wastes from Modern
Poultry farms find their way into our rivers and streams. Their high nutrient
levels (Nitrates, phosphorus etc.) cause a negative impact on the ecological
systems by causing over production of plant life in certain areas. Oxygen
demanding compounds lead to fish kills and dead zones in our waters. Arsenic
and Pathogens contaminate our free waters and leach into the water table
jeopardizing all that use water. Secondary contamination through livestock watering
and irrigation spreads these contaminants further endangering the Eco-system
and our food supply. The high concentrations of, ammonia and other gases, from
decaying carcasses and waste, ads to global warming and Ozone Layer depletion.
I have done my best to avoid commentary in this article.
Check my sources, check my facts. All that I have done here is try to provide
information. What people choose to do with that information is up to their discretion?
If you missed the first two parts of this series you can
follow the links below. Part 4 will cover the health impact of these two