Skip to main content

Factory meat, cruel and bad for us

By Jane Velez-Mitchell
March 15, 2014 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
Chickens are crammed inside a battery cage farm. Jane Velez-Mitchell says we need to eat less meat for a healthier planet.
Chickens are crammed inside a battery cage farm. Jane Velez-Mitchell says we need to eat less meat for a healthier planet.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jane Velez-Mitchell: Almost all farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms
  • Velez-Mitchell: Animal abuse and cruelty is the norm in the meat industry
  • She says meat production leads to obesity, disease, high health costs, pollution
  • She says raising meat uses huge amount of energy; plant based diet could feed the world

Editor's note: Jane Velez-Mitchell is an HLN-TV host whose show airs nightly at 7 EST. She has written several books, including "iWant: My Journey from Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life," "Addict Nation: An Intervention for America" and "Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias." Velez-Mitchell's reporting on animal issues has earned her three Genesis Awards from the Humane Society of the United States and recognition from PETA, FARM and Mercy for Animals.

(CNN) -- Here's a thought to chew on: America's most intractable problems all double back to our collective mistreatment of animals. Sounds crazy, right? Well, humor me for a minute.

Our own lives would improve if we started showing some basic decency to the 9 billion cows, calves, pigs, lambs, turkeys and chickens that are slaughtered a year in the United States. More than 99% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms, many unable to even turn around in small cages.

A slew of investigations by Mercy for Animals, PETA and the Humane Society of the United States have uncovered repeated instances of vicious abuse of animals headed for slaughter.

Jane Velez-Mitchell
Jane Velez-Mitchell

The latest Humane Society undercover investigation of a large veal calf slaughterhouse in New Jersey showed abuse too gruesome to display on television and resulted in the temporary shutdown of the facility by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Animal abuse is the norm in the meat industry," says Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society. "Many standard practices in animal agribusiness are so cruel that they're just out of step with mainstream American values about how animals ought to be treated." The society cites piglet tail docking and castration without anesthesia, the confinement of pigs to crates where they cannot turn around and cutting off the beaks of egg-laying hens before they're confined to tiny cages.

If all of this sounds hideous, it is. And here's how it hurts us humans.

The obesity crisis: Two thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. The American Medical Association has declared obesity a chronic disease in an attempt to get a grip on what some label the 21st century plague. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that kids who are overweight in kindergarten are often condemned to future obesity.

The latest Humane Society undercover investigation of a large veal calf slaughterhouse in New Jersey showed abuse too gruesome to display on television
Jane Velez-Mitchell

It also showed obesity is highest in the poorest socioeconomic sectors of society, further hobbling already disadvantaged kids. The rise of obesity has paralleled the rise of fast food, laden with meat and dairy products: burgers and shakes.

Obesity affects every aspect of a people's lives, from health to relationships. Less fast food would help stop the obesity epidemic and would also mean raising and killing fewer animals. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded, "a plant-based diet seems to be a sensible approach for the prevention of obesity in children."

The health care crisis: The myriad of serious health risks resulting from poor diet include high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and even sleep apnea. Eating too much meat and dairy products, combined with excessive intake of sugars and starch, plays a big role in these medical issues. Cholesterol does not exist in vegetables. Vegetables do not clog arteries.

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists says we could save 100,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs from heart disease every year if Americans ate more fruits and vegetables.

The report begs Congress to slash farm policies that subsidize Big Ag's massive production of junk and fast food. Critics say the $956 billion farm bill that just passed is simply a bait and switch that cuts direct subsidies but replaces them with generous crop insurance.

That brings us to money.

The deficit: Skyrocketing health care costs are a key factor in the ballooning deficit. The yearly medical costs of obesity are estimated to be as high as $190 billion a year, according to a study reported in the Journal of Health Economics, with expenditures of almost $1,200 more a year to treat obese Americans compared with those of normal weight.

Natural disasters: Extreme weather phenomena is on the rise leading to more massive, destructive storms as a result of climate change. Hurricane Sandy alone cost $70 billion in damage and lost economic productivity.

Meat production is one of the leading causes of climate change because of the destruction of the rainforest for grazing lands, the massive amounts of methane produced by farm animals and the huge amounts of water, grain and other resources required to feed animals The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization found the production of meat contributes from 14% and 22% of the world's greenhouse gases.

Hunger: Every five seconds a child dies somewhere in the world of malnutrition or starvation. World hunger could be eliminated if all the produce fed to cows, chickens and pigs raised for human consumption was distributed directly to hungry humans.

Bill Gates, who is championing meat alternatives in his "Future of Food" project, puts it succinctly when he notes: "For every 10 kilograms of grain we feed cattle, we get 1 kilogram of beef in return. The calorie kick-back is just too low to feed a growing world population."

Some of the smartest people in America, from Bill Clinton to Bill Gates, are starting to see the big picture. Clinton, after having quadruple bypass surgery and later stents to open his veins, publicly adopted a plant-based diet.

Bill Gates, in his Future of Food project, sums up the unsustainability of our food system succinctly, noting: "raising meat takes a great deal of land and water and has a substantial environmental impact. Put simply, there's no way to produce enough meat for 9 billion people." The human population of Earth is expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050.

Now, it's time for the rest of us to wake up and vote with our shopping carts. American taxpayers and consumers are being exploited right along with the animals.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jane Velez-Mitchell.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT