Editorial: We can change the system every time we eat a meal

Lisa Yates, Editor
Lisa Yates, Editor

Like most people, price and convenience drive my food choices. I frequently roll through Sonic and order the same thing: A junior deluxe burger, with no onions, and lemonade. The total comes to something like $3.14. It's fast, easy and it tastes good.

What's wrong with that?

One of the big problems is that fast food has become the norm, not just for me but for my generation and those that follow.

I remember a kindergarten teacher telling me that so many of her young students come to school not knowing how to use a knife and fork because they've always eaten hamburgers or chicken nuggets out of a paper sack. (Talk to teachers and you'll hear a lot of things that will surprise you.)

My own eating habits have changed a lot since I was a kid.

When I was young, we sat down to a home-cooked dinner every night. That's what most people did back in those days. It wasn't until my mother, brother and I moved out of our grandparent's home that we started eating fast food most every night. My mother worked full-time as a commercial lines underwriter for an insurance company so she didn't usually have time to shop for groceries and cook a real meal until the weekends. I work full-time, too, so I understand.

It's not just our eating habits that have changed throughout the years, but also it's the entire food industry that's changed.

Those of us over age 50 can still remember when chicken was a treat for special occasions because it was more expensive than beef.

Today chicken is the cheapest meat and its consumption has doubled since 1970. That's largely due to factory farming.

Advocates of factory-farm production boast that their techniques have brought the price of chicken within the reach of average working families.

However the more I learn about factory farming, the more I see its practices often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the farmer, the safety of workers, and our environment.

Have you heard about Roxarosone? I didn't either until I interviewed an attorney in Lake Charles about his practice. He told me about a number of nationwide cases he's been involved with during his 25 years in business. One of his cases exposed the poultry industry's practice of mixing cancer-causing arsenic into chicken feed and fertilizer. Yes, I said ARSENIC.

It all began in the tiny town of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. In a town of 2,500 many of the residents had been diagnosed with rare childhood cancers that usually occur at a rate of one in a million.

After years of investigating, the cancer was linked to higher than expected arsenic in the dust from chicken litter fertilizer.

It turns out that poultry companies added Roxarosone, an arsenic-based chemical, to the chicken feed to control parasites and promote growth.

Within 36 days, a chicken on Roxarosone can grow to its full market weight of about six pounds. Their breasts muscles grow especially quickly on this chemical - and that's the most expensive cut of the meat.

The attorney told me the big poultry companies were very smart in dealing with the farmers, leaving them responsible for all of the damage.

He said farmers are under contract to the poultry company, which meant they have to provide the land and construct sheds at their own expense. The company provides the chickens and all their feed, as well as additives.

The farmers are responsible for scraping out and disposing of fecal waste. Their only option is spreading it onto crop fields.

By forcing the farmers to provide the land and sheds, the company forced the liability for environmental damages onto the farmers.

Although litigation is ongoing, the attorney won a couple of important victories in the case.

One of the most important things he accomplished was to get one of the large poultry companies to remove the food supplement with the arsenic in it.

For years the FDA denied that arsenic fed to chickens ended up in our meat supply. The story up until now was that the arsenic was excreted in the chicken feces. However, the manufacture of Roxarsone decided to pull the product off the shelves.

Litigation in the Arkansas case also influenced legislation in that state regarding land management. There's now a state law in Arkansas controlling the amount of fertilizer that can be dumped onto the land.

So what does all of that have to do with me eating a Sonic burger?

Simply this: The food industry will deliver to the marketplace what the marketplace demands. If we demand good wholesome food, we will get it.

We can vote to change the system every time we eat a meal.

It's up to us to choose foods that are in season, local and organic - meaning foods produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

We can cook a meal with our families and eat together. We all have a right to healthy food.

Lisa Yates is the editor at Gonzales Weekly Citizen. Follow her on Twitter @Lisa_editor. ###