The New York Times reports that progress in negotiations on an historic trade agreement between the United States and European Union has slowed to a snail’s pace thanks, in part, to the EU balking at accepting our hormone-treated, antibiotic-injected and inhumanely raised beef, pork and chicken. More power to them and let’s hope it’s the US that buckles and not the EU.
It must be unusual and more than a little uncomfortable for US negotiators to be in the position of a relatively backward nation negotiating with a party whose environmental and overall regulatory regimen, at least when it comes to agriculture, is stricter and more progressive than our own. The EU has strict laws on labelling genetically modified foods, stricter rules on the humane treatment of farm animals and, unlike the US, prohibits the sale of hormone-treated beef.
Unfortunately, thanks to Big Ag and its stooges in Congress, the US is far less enlightened. California is a leader in the humane treatment of farm stock but there is no will to improve their lot at the national level. And while the GMO labelling fight is not over, voters in relatively progressive states such as California and Washington have opted for wilful ignorance over transparency.
Even the environmental damage caused by industrial farming – as this piece on the poisoning of Iowa’s water by factory hog farms highlights – has failed to prompt a serious rethinking of the way we raise animals for food. Do we have to wait until Iowa has its very first mountain range composed of pig shit before we take notice of the harm we’re doing?
We demand cheap meat no matter what the price paid by the animals we raise and refuse to confront Big Ag about its nefarious practices. Heck we don’t even want to know about it, hence the term “Ag-gag” which denotes laws passed in several states to effectively prevent revelations about abusive and cruel treatment of farm animals.
There are no easy answers to the question of how we can healthily and humanely raise our farm animals while still providing affordable beef, pork and chicken, as even a staunch animal welfare and sustainable food advocate such as Nicholas Kristof acknowledges.
Which doesn’t mean we can’t try, and kudos to the EU countries for leading the way while showing us up to be the backward and ignorant yahoos we’ve become on this issue. And who knows? Maybe one day their example will shame us into rejecting our present industrial model of food production for a better and more moral one.