Dirty birds: At The Atlantic online, Texas State University professor James McWilliams wonders why the food media is ignoring studies pointing to pastured meat animals as carriers of communicable diseases. Trichinella, Toxoplasma ― recent studies point to parasitic diseases like those in higher concentrations in free-range pigs versus their CAFO cousins. Pastured chickens are much more likely to contain Salmonella. Some 30-50 percent of free-range birds and as many as 100 percent of backyard birds are little strutting Salmonella factories. In the same studies, caged chickens had an infection rate under 3 percent.
That isn't to say that pastured food animals represent some grave public health crisis, or isn't desirable for all the obvious reasons.
The idea of a free-range animal is appealing in so many ways. The animals are almost certainly happier. They are also removed from the battery rounds of antibiotics and vaccines that keep them growing in caged systems. They allow consumers to feel better about eating meat. But, as these very recent studies all suggest in one way or another, free-range--however it ultimately stacks up against confined methods--comes with its fair share of problems.Think of the broadly overlooked data as a corrective to the food world's general notion of pasturing as de facto healthier than factory animal-raising. It's just, well, consider McWilliams' own defense:
Please understand that the point of exploring this question is not to promote the highly charged thesis that factory-farmed animals are better. Instead, the only goal here is to raise awareness about a method of farming animals that has--primarily on account of its status as a preferred alternative to concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs)--escaped the critical scrutiny we've so dutifully applied to factory farms.How many times are we foodies guilty of being seduced by the romance of small-scale, traditional food and farming? Not asking questions enabled the rise of CAFOs in the first place. Right?