October 19, 2007

Bad Beef, Stinky Pigs, and Healing Honey

Here we go again… While many members of Congress are focused on eviscerating the constitution—clearly an important topic—there are other pieces of legislation moving through Congress, including the Farm Bill.

I recently discussed a disconcerting effort by Sen. Diane Feinstein to try to derail a provision in the Senate version of the Farm Bill that would make it easier for small farms to sell their beef—very often grass-fed or mostly grass-fed beef—by allowing beef from state-inspected processing facilities to be sold across state lines. Bottom line is that the massive processing facilities that are inspected by the feds, the USDA to be precise, often won’t take the cows from the small farmers. Not enough coming in to justify it.

And, of course, these facilities don’t have the best reputation for food or worker safety, so the small farmers who have put in the tremendous amount of time and effort it takes to raise grass-fed beef probably aren’t real keen on sending their cattle to those large facilities for processing anyway.

In any case, the excellent Ethicurean has a fantastic round up on the latest with this provision, including what appear to be shenanigans by Big Beef—that is, the big meat processing companies—to fuel speculation about how this provision will hurt meat safety. I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on there: They are scared of the competition from a beef product that more and more people are trying because of things like recalls of 22 millions pounds of frozen beef patties.

And, in another bit of scary irony, while Sen. Feinstein is atwitter about alleged lax safety at state-inspected facilities, the federal situation—shock—apparently ain’t so good.

Several USDA inspectors said their workloads are doubling or tripling as they take on the duties of inspectors who have left the department. The force has been reduced dramatically in recent years as vacancies are left unfilled.

"We've been short the whole time I've been in," said one veteran inspector, who asked to not be named. "We don't have enough inspectors, but we have too much management. The inspectors are short all the time and getting spread thinner and thinner."

Makes me feel real safe. We had some grass-fed steaks from So’ Journey Farms a few weeks ago with a fantastic chimichurri sauce. I’ll admit, the steak was a little gamier than what you would get from a grain-fed steak or even from the Niman Ranch grass-fed but grain-finished steaks (which, I’ll admit, are always stellar), but it was tender and, overall, very enjoyable. I see myself ordering up a good bit of beef from both So’ Journey and Niman to keep us through the winter.

And about those stinky pigs In parts of Iowa, it turns out, the residents are tired of the huge factory pig farms stinking up the joint.

Mayor Kent Forbes has learned a hard truth about small-town life in Iowa: Sometimes it stinks. That's not a figure of speech. His tiny southern Iowa town is surrounded by hog farms, where tons of manure fill the air with a biting ammonia smell.

Farm odors are nothing new in a state that has long been a national leader in hog, corn and soybean production. But a steady proliferation of huge hog confinements _ many with upward of 5,000 hogs _ has drawn complaints from longtime Iowans and concerns that the odor could hinder efforts to attract businesses.

Why would these farms stink? Jeff Tietz explained in an excellent Rolling Stone article on Paula Dean’s favorite pork product manufacturer, Smithfield.

Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment.

They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs -- anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.

Those ponds turn pink from all the waste and bacteria built up in them. And they stink.

Again, all the reason to search out some local farmers who sell pork from pigs raised on a pasture, not in poop and waste laden environments.

To end on a sweet note… British researchers have some advice for anybody who has a wound or has to undergo surgery: consider using honey to help it heal.

“Honey is one of the oldest foods in existence and was an ancient remedy for wound healing” explains lead author Dr Fasal Rauf Khan from North West Wales NHS Trust in Bangor. “It was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun and was still edible as it never spoils.”

Now, I enjoy drizzling a little honey on a piece of toast that I’ve topped with a thin layer of peanut butter. And I regularly use it in various vinaigrettes and marinades. I had not considered applying it to a gash. But maybe I should…

“Now concerns about antibiotic resistance, and a renewed interest in natural remedies, has prompted a resurgence in the antimicrobial and wound healing properties of honey.

“Honey has a number of properties that make it effective against bacterial growth, including its high sugar content, low moisture content, gluconic acid – which creates an acidic environment – and hydrogen peroxide. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation and swelling.”

Researchers have also reported that applying honey can be used to reduce amputation rates among diabetes patients.

Stressing that patients should always check with their surgeon before applying any substance to post-operative wounds, Dr Khan adds that studies have found that honey offers a number of benefits.

“It can be used to sterilise infected wounds, speed up healing and impede tumours, particularly in keyhole surgery.”

Well, perhaps I’ll hold off on applying it to any surgical wounds. But I’m going to try it the next time I get a little scrape.

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