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Dr. Mercola - Articles


The US Opioid Epidemic — A War of a Different Kind

By Dr. Mercola

The opioid epidemic — which between 2002 and 2015 alone claimed an estimated 202,600 Americans’ lives1 — shows absolutely no signs of leveling off or declining. On the contrary, recent statistics suggest the death toll is still trending upward, with more and more people abusing these powerful narcotics. The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths include2 methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®).

This dangerous class of drugs promises relief from pain and is filling a hole in human hearts and souls everywhere. According to the most recent data3 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose cases admitted into emergency rooms increased by more than 30 percent across the U.S. between July 2016 and September 2017. Overdose cases rose by:4

  • 30 percent among men
  • 31 percent among 24- to 35-year-olds
  • 36 percent among 35- to 54-year-olds
  • 32 percent among those 55 and older

In the Midwest region — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin — overdose cases rose by 70 percent and opioid-related mortality by 14 percent. Large cities also saw a 54 percent increase in overdose cases in that same timeframe. According to CDC officials, the results are “a wake-up call to the fast-moving opioid overdose epidemic.’’

‘The Opioid Diaries’

Curiously, opioid abuse appears to be a uniquely American problem. As noted in a recent write-up in New York Magazine,5 the U.S. “pioneered modern life. Now epic numbers of Americans are killing themselves with opioids to escape it.” I’ve written about opioid misuse and addiction on many occasions in recent years, and it seems one cannot discuss this issue enough. Many are still unaware of the dangers involved with filling that first prescription.

As an indication of the need for awareness, the March 5 issue of Time magazine, “The Opioid Diaries,”6 is aimed at exposing the national crisis. For the first time in the magazine’s history, an entire issue is devoted to a single photo essay — the work of photojournalist James Nachtwey, who has documented stories for Time for over three decades. In “The Opioid Diaries,” Nachtwey’s photos detail the stark reality of this all-American crisis.

He and editor Paul Moakley spent months traversing the U.S., interviewing over 200 people along the way. As noted by a deputy sheriff who has seen more than his fair share of the fallout of this epidemic, opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate. “It’s not just the guy who’s never worked a day in his life,” he says. “It’s airline pilots. It’s teachers. I’m sure there’s law enforcement, firemen out there hooked on it. It’s Joe Citizen that’s dying.”

A Country in Crisis  

Here are some statistics about the U.S. opioid epidemic that really ought to get everyone’s attention:

Leading cause of death for younger Americans

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.7

Annual death toll greater than entire Vietnam War

Preliminary data for 2016 reveals the death toll from drug overdoses may be as high as 65,000,8 a 19 percent increase from 2015; the largest annual increase of drug overdose deaths in U.S. history, and a number that exceeds both the AIDS epidemic at its peak and the death toll of the Vietnam War in its entirety.9

That much-opposed war claimed the lives of 58,000 American troops. Now, we’re suffering a death toll exceeding that of the Vietnam War each and every year, courtesy of a drug addiction epidemic created by the pharmaceutical industry.  

Deadlier than breast cancer

Opioids, specifically, killed 33,000 in 2015,10,11,12 and 42,249 in 2016, which is over 1,000 more deaths than were caused by breast cancer that same year.13

Synthetic opioid abuse skyrocketing

Deadly overdoses involving fentanyl, an incredibly potent synthetic opioid, rose by 50 percent between 2013 and 2014 and another 72 percent between 2014 and 2015. Over 20,000 of the drug overdose deaths in 2016 were attributed to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.14 In Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, fentanyl was responsible for at least 70 percent of all opioid-related deaths between July and December 2016.15

While some users will buy fentanyl on purpose, others buy tainted wares and end up taking it without knowing the risks. This is a critical problem, as fentanyl is so potent just a few grains can be deadly.

An inexpensive fentanyl test strip can check for the presence of the drug, and trials where test strips have been given to users show they’re more likely to cut back on the amount they’re taking when they know it’s tainted with fentanyl. As such, fentanyl testing can be employed as “a point-of-care test within harm-reduction programs” aimed at lowering the death toll.16

Significant factor in unemployment rates

Opioid abuse has been identified as a significant factor in rising unemployment among men, accounting for 20 percent of the increase in male unemployment between 1999 and 2015.17 Nearly half of all unemployed men between the ages of 25 and 54 are using opioids on a daily basis.18

Americans use vast majority of global opioid supplies

Americans consume 99 percent of the hydrocodone sold worldwide, and 81 percent of all oxycodone — approximately 30 times more than medically necessary for the population size of the U.S.19 A number of different statistics convey this massive overuse.

For example, in a five-year span, between 2007 and 2012, 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were shipped to West Virginia, which has just 1.8 million residents.20 More than 1 in 5 Americans insured by BlueCross BlueShield were prescribed an opioid in 2015, and insurance claims involving opioid dependence rose by nearly 500 percent between 2010 and 2016.21

Declining life expectancy

Life expectancy for both men and women in the U.S. has declined two years in a row,22,23 and this decline is largely attributable to the opioid crisis. Just as the opioid epidemic, declining life expectancy is a uniquely American phenomenon. No other developed countries has experienced this decline in life expectancy.

A Story of Misery

There are compelling reasons to suspect the opioid epidemic was purposely engineered by the drug companies that make them, and that these same companies have, and continue to, shy away from doing what’s necessary to curb the use of opioid pain killers for financially-driven reasons.

Moreover, while this was not likely planned, the industry’s misleading promotion of narcotic pain relievers appears to have coincided with a growing trend of emotional pain and spiritual disconnect, and opioids satisfy people’s need not only for physical pain relief but also psychological and existential pain relief. As noted by New York Magazine:24

The scale and darkness of this phenomenon is a sign of a civilization in a more acute crisis than we knew, a nation overwhelmed by a warp-speed, postindustrial world, a culture yearning to give up, indifferent to life and death, enraptured by withdrawal and nothingness …

[U]nless you understand what users get out of an illicit substance, it’s impossible to understand its appeal, or why an epidemic takes off, or what purpose it is serving in so many people’s lives. And it is significant, it seems to me, that the drugs now conquering America are downers: They are not the means to engage in life more vividly but to seek a respite from its ordeals … And some part of being free from all pain makes you indifferent to death itself.”

The article cites a number of firsthand accounts of the experience opioids provides — the blissful serenity of being able to stand apart from one’s psychological pain in addition to physical pain; the sensation of being connected to some deeper wellspring of peace. These are experiences typically derived from spiritual practices, and hint at a widespread lack of connectedness to the divine in general.

An Epic Failure of Government

While the drug industry deserves a large portion of the blame for creating the opioid epidemic, the U.S. government also mismanaged the situation right from the start by supporting drug companies’ efforts to make narcotic pain killers more readily available for people with nonlethal pain conditions, and its slow reaction to the problem has only allowed matters to worsen. In a recent Washington Post article, columnist David Von Drehle writes:25

“With the possible exception of alcohol, no substance on Earth has a longer track record of disastrous addiction than opium and its derivatives … Yet despite centuries of hard-won knowledge, pharmaceutical companies and prescribing physicians were allowed to make such opioids as Percocet and OxyContin widely available as treatments not just for acute pain, but for chronic discomfort.

Their fantasy of benign long-term opioid use is the root of the epidemic. Nearly 80 percent of heroin users report that prescription pain relievers were their gateway drugs … Such a failure of epic proportions by a generation of public-health officials merits a major congressional investigation to reduce the chance that anything like it ever happens again.”

The U.S. government is further exacerbating drug use by tightening restrictions on less harmful and far safer non-narcotic alternatives such as medical marijuana, CBD oil and kratom. As noted by New York Magazine, “The iron law of prohibition, as first stipulated by activist Richard Cowan in 1986, is that the more intense the crackdown, ‘the more potent the drugs will become.’ In other words, the harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”

History Tells Us Prohibition Doesn’t Work

During the prohibition of alcohol, people didn’t turn to beer making. They started making hard liquor — moonshine. The same thing is happening now, as heroin — the street version of opioids — is being replaced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than heroin. Users buy what they can get, and so the spiral of drug abuse and death continues spinning out of control.

“The critical Office of National Drug Control Policy has spent a year without a permanent director,” New York Magazine writes. “Its budget is slated to be slashed by 95 percent, and … Kellyanne Conway — Trump’s ‘opioid czar’ — has no expertise in government, let alone in drug control.

Although Trump plans to increase spending on treating addiction, the overall emphasis is on an even more intense form of prohibition, plus an advertising campaign. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even recently opined that he believes marijuana is really the key gateway to heroin — a view so detached from reality it beggars belief …

One of the few proven ways to reduce overdose deaths is to establish supervised injection sites that eventually wean users off the hard stuff while steering them into counseling, safe housing, and job training …

[W]e would have to contemplate actually providing heroin to addicts in some cases, and we’d have to shift much of the current spending on prohibition, criminalization, and incarceration into a huge program of opioid rehabilitation … We would, in short, have to end the war on drugs.”

Making Drug Use Safer Doesn’t Work Either

On the other hand, the safer you make drug use, the more drugs will be misused. That’s exactly what a recent study looking the variations in timing of expanded access to naloxone found. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse an overdose if administered quickly enough.

In 2013, states began expanding access to the drug beyond trained medical professionals, and more than 40 states now have expanded access, making it available to police officers, nonmedical emergency responders, teachers and even family and friends of the addicts themselves.

While the idea behind expanded access was to prevent deaths, by lowering the risk opioid-related overdoses shot up even more. As mentioned earlier, overdoses increased by more than 30 percent in the 14 months leading up to September 2017.

Worse, mortality increased by 14 percent in the Midwest after naloxone access was expanded, in large part due to increased use of fentanyl, which typically requires multiple doses of naloxone. Even with multiple doses, it doesn’t always work. Expanded access to naloxone has also led to more opioid-related crime, including the illegal possession and sale of opioids.  

Common Pain Meds Are Just as Effective as Opioids, Study Finds

Evidence suggests opioid makers such as Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, knew exactly what they were doing when they claimed opioids — which are chemically very similar to heroin — have an exceptionally low addiction rate when taken by people with pain.

In fact, the massive increase in opioid sales has been traced back to an orchestrated marketing plan aimed at misinforming doctors about the drug’s addictive potential. The drug’s general effectiveness against pain has also been vastly exaggerated by drug manufacturers. In April 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a paper in which it noted that:26

“Most placebo-controlled, randomized trials of opioids have lasted six weeks or less, and we are aware of no study that has compared opioid therapy with other treatments in terms of long-term (more than 1 year) outcomes related to pain, function, or quality of life.

The few randomized trials to evaluate opioid efficacy for longer than six weeks had consistently poor results. In fact, several studies have showed that use of opioids for chronic pain may actually worsen pain and functioning, possibly by potentiating pain perception …”

More recently, government-funded research27,28,29 published in the journal JAMA earlier this month confirmed that patients taking opioids did not experience better pain-related function than those taking far safer, non-narcotic pain relievers. The study is the first to compare opioids against non-opioid pain medication for people with chronic back pain or osteoarthritic pain in the hip or knee.

Contrary to popular belief, patients who took Tylenol, ibuprofen or lidocaine actually reported less pain intensity than those taking an opioid drug such as morphine, Vicodin or oxycodone. Not surprisingly, however, opioid users were far more likely to experience adverse side effects. According to the authors:

“Treatment with opioids was not superior to treatment with non-opioid medications for improving pain-related function over 12 months. Results do not support initiation of opioid therapy for moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain ... Overall, opioids did not demonstrate any advantage over non-opioid medications that could potentially outweigh their greater risk of harms.”

Treating Your Pain Without Drugs

It seems we’re not going to get anywhere with this epidemic until or unless we begin to address deeper societal issues. Most areas have lost a sense of community, and social media has only deepened the gulf between us. In many ways, the opioid epidemic appears to mirror a deeper, psychological and spiritual disconnect.

It’s important to recognize and address our human need for life purpose, a sense of community and shared values. There are no quick fixes to existential despair. It will require a shift in mindset across society as a whole. With an eye on the big picture, it appears we really need to find ways to reinfuse meaning into our lives.

With regard to physical pain, we clearly need to have compassion. But the most compassionate treatment isn’t necessarily a narcotic pain reliever. A number of studies have already confirmed that opioids do not work well at all for chronic pain. Most recently, they were found to be no more effective than Tylenol and ibuprofen over the long term. Opioids really must be a drug of last resort, and should almost never be considered for chronic long-term use. It’s important for both doctors and patients to recognize this.

That said, considering the health risks associated with opioid painkillers, I strongly urge you to exhaust other options before resorting to these drugs. The good news is there are many natural alternatives to treating pain, including the following:

Medical cannabis

Medical marijuana has a long history as a natural analgesic and is now legal in 28 states. You can learn more about the laws in your state on medicalmarijuana.procon.org.30


Kratom (Mitragyna speciose) is a plant remedy that has become a popular opioid substitute.31 In August 2016, the DEA issued a notice saying it was planning to ban kratom, listing it as Schedule 1 controlled substance.

However, following massive outrage from kratom users who say opioids are their only alternative, the agency reversed its decision.32 Still, its scheduling remains uncertain, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently declared kratom an opioid.33

Kratom is safer than an opioid for someone in serious and chronic pain. However, it’s important to recognize that it is a psychoactive substance and should be used with great care. There’s very little research showing how to use it safely and effectively, and it may have a very different effect from one person to the next. The other issue to address is that there are a number of different strains available with different effects.

Also, while it may be useful for weaning people off opioids, kratom is in itself addictive. So, while it appears to be a far safer alternative to opioids, it’s still a powerful and potentially addictive substance. So please, do your own research before trying it.

Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN)

Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, originally developed in the early 1960s for the treatment of opioid addiction. When taken at very low doses (LDN, available only by prescription), it triggers endorphin production, which can boost your immune function and ease pain.

Curcumin: A primary therapeutic compound identified in the spice turmeric, curcumin has been shown in more than 50 clinical studies to have potent anti-inflammatory activity. Curcumin is hard to absorb, so best results are achieved with preparations designed to improve absorption. It is very safe and you can take two to three every hour if you need to.
Astaxanthin: One of the most effective oil-soluble antioxidants known, astaxanthin has very potent anti-inflammatory properties. Higher doses are typically required for pain relief, and you may need 8 milligrams or more per day to achieve results.
Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this herb contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which have been prized for thousands of years. This is one of my personal favorites, as it worked well for many of my former rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Bromelain: This protein-digesting enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful. Keep in mind most of the bromelain is found within the core of the pineapple, so consider eating some of the pulpy core when you consume the fruit.
Cayenne cream: Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting your body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmit pain signals to your brain.
Cetyl myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in dairy butter and fish, acts as a joint lubricant and anti-inflammatory. I have used a topical preparation of CMO to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Evening primrose, black currant and borage oils: These oils contain the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, which is useful for treating arthritic pain.
Ginger: This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea, or incorporated into fresh vegetable juice.

Raw Milk Farmers Are Going to Prison

By Dr. Mercola

In Canada, it’s illegal to sell or give away raw milk, a law that’s enforced in many provinces. In Ontario, distributing raw milk was long considered to be a regulatory offense punishable by fines, but as of January 2018 an order issued by Ontario’s Superior Court changed that. Now, anyone who distributes or sells raw milk in the area can face years in prison.

As Karen Selick, litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, wrote in the Financial Post, “[T]he province of Ontario appears eager to fill its empty jail cells with individuals whose so-called crime was distributing raw milk.”1 The injunction was part of Downing v. ARC, a legal case between Gavin Downing, Ontario’s milk director, and ARC, a farm co-op owned by Canadian raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt that was distributing raw milk to its members.

According to A Campaign for Real Milk, a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “In Ontario, farmers may be fined $250,000 and sentenced to three years in jail [for selling or distributing raw milk] … Challenges to these laws are now underway. And in spite of onerous penalties, Michael and Dorothea Schmidt of Glencolton Farms provide milk to cow shareholders in Toronto.”2

Canadian Government Battles Raw Milk Farmers Providing Wholesome Food

Schmidt has been battling with the Canadian government for decades in order to provide safe raw milk to area residents. He has been harassed with threats, surveillance, intimidation and raids, even though no one has ever gotten sick from drinking the raw milk products he provides. Since it is illegal to sell raw milk in Canada, those who wanted to enjoy Schmidt’s raw milk products formed the Glencolton farm-share, in which each owned a piece of a cow and could therefore legally enjoy its milk.

The government eradicated this loophole, however, so the shareholders moved to own the farm instead of just the cow, by transforming into the ARC co-op. The government still intervened, however, forcing the members to “operate with caution” out of fear that they might be raided while trying to pick up a gallon of milk. Although members have tried to set up meetings with government officials to outline their concerns and reach an agreeable conclusion, the government has not been interested.3

In 2011, Schmidt even went on a 37-day hunger strike, which ended with him meeting former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, although no progress was ultimately made. Selick, who was Schmidt’s lawyer from 2010 to 2013, explained that the injunction handed down in 2018 is being appealed and a constitutional challenge has been launched seeking to overrule the “outdated” legislation, adding:4

“[O]ver the 24 years that Ontario has been prosecuting Schmidt, the number of U.S. states that have enacted laws allowing consumers to access raw milk has risen from 26 to 42. Canada is the only G-7 country that completely prohibits the distribution and sale of raw milk, through both federal and provincial laws. In many European countries, raw milk is sold in vending machines. Italy alone has about 1,300 such machines.

Do all these foreign governments care less about their people than Canadian governments do? Or do they simply recognize that raw milk really isn’t very risky compared to all kinds of stuff that people consume legally every day? Canadian kids make an alarming number of trips to the hospital emergency room every year (and occasionally die) due to choking on hard candies or balloons, but we don’t outlaw those.”

Violating the Constitutional Right to Access Raw Milk

Elisa Vander Hout, who is married to Schmidt, believes the Ontario injunction violates their constitutional right to access raw milk and has, along with other co-op members, filed a motion to have the injunction stayed.

For now, they have stopped distributing the milk in order to avoid criminal charges, feeding the wholesome food to pigs and chickens instead of handing it out to co-op members.5 It’s a similar story in the U.S., where efforts continue to expand access to raw milk — the only food banned from interstate commerce — and, in so doing, protect people’s right to eat and drink what they please.

You might remember that at one time all milk was “raw,” as pasteurization did not yet exist. This 19th-century invention is touted as crucial in making milk safe, but what it’s actually done is allow for the proliferation of the “dirty dairy” industry, aka milk that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). The Tenth Amendment Center is one of the latest NGOs to get involved in the raw milk legalization cause. The 10th Amendment reads:6

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

What this means, then, is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in violation of the Constitution by trying to enforce raw milk bans within states. Such bans tend to favor industrial dairy at the expense of small, family farms, according to Mike Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He said in a position paper:7

“Constitutionally, food safety falls within the powers reserved to the states and the people … The feds have no authority to enforce food safety laws within the border of a state. Nevertheless, federal agencies still want more control over America’s food supply, and they go great lengths to get it.

For example, the FDA bans the interstate sale of raw milk. But, not only do they ban the transportation of raw milk across state lines, they also claim the authority to ban unpasteurized milk within the borders of a state.

FDA ultimately wants to maintain a complete prohibition on raw milk with a one-size-fits-all control over everything you eat and drink. While FDA apologists claim the agency only wants to protect consumers, in truth, federal regulations tend to benefit big companies and squeeze out family farms. In the name of safety, FDA regulations limit your ability to access local, fresh food.”

Keeping Raw Milk Illegal Allows Dirty CAFOs to Flourish

On CAFOs, milk can be produced in filthy conditions, then heated until all the pathogens are gone. Never mind that, along with killing “germs,” pasteurization kills off beneficial organisms in the milk and prevents natural souring (while naturally soured milk can still be consumed, pasteurized milk past its prime will quickly go bad).8

Rather than forcing dirty and dangerous CAFOs to clean up their acts, the FDA has waged a war against raw milk producers — those who are typically producing milk using far healthier, more humane and more sustainable methods than the industrial dairy industry ever could.

As CAFOs became the norm for dairy farms (even in idyllic-seeming dairy states like Vermont), farmers were forced to grow their herds and increase milk production using artificial (drug and hormone-based) methods, among others (like feeding cows an unnatural amount of grain-based food, 24-hour confinement and increased number of milkings per day).

The price of milk has gone so low that an average-sized dairy farm in Vermont (about 125 cows) may operate at a loss of $100,000 a year.9 According to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), meanwhile:10

“Dairy farmers are suffering because the companies that send their milk to the grocery store refuse to pay them what it costs them to produce the milk. On the West Coast, cooperatives created to sell dairy products have been accused by their members of pocketing millions of dollars in an elaborate accounting scheme.

Meanwhile, farmers in the Northeast have filed a lawsuit against their co-op, Dairy Farmers of America, and Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk processor, alleging the companies conspired to monopolize the market and drive down prices, knowing their member farmers would have nowhere else to sell their milk.

Milk prices are so bad this year — farmers are getting the same price they got 20 years ago — that at least one milk processor sent farmers phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and other mental health services along with the latest market forecasts.”

Only about 3 percent of Americans regularly consume raw milk, but OCA states this could offer a major push to rural economies. In fact, if 100 farms in Wisconsin could provide raw milk to 50 local families, it would lead to more than $10 million in “increased wealth and well-being” for Wisconsin residents.11

OCA further noted, “A boost like that is exactly what rural economies need as U.S. dairy farmers continue going out of business at an unsustainable rate. In 1950, there were about 3.5 million farms with milking cows. By 2016, there were only 41,809. Between 2015 and 2016, 1725 dairy farms went under.”12

Meanwhile, 48 Million Americans Sickened by CAFO Meat

The irony of federal agents conducting raids on small raw milk farmers becomes all the more apparent when you learn that, each year, 48 million Americans, or nearly 15 percent of the population, are sickened by foodborne illness in the U.S., compared to 1.5 percent of the U.K. population.13 Meanwhile, 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 3,000 die, from foodborne disease.

A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and The Guardian further noted “shocking” and “deeply worrying” hygiene failings at 47 U.S. meat plants that could flood the market with “dirty meat.” Data stemming from 13 red meat and poultry plants over a two-year period revealed more than 150 violations a week, totaling 15,000 violations in all. Incidents included:14

  • Condemned, diseased poultry stored in containers used for edible food products
  • Floor drains blocked by meat and debris, leading to floods of dirty water
  • Meat intended for the human food chain that was contaminated with fecal matter and pus
  • Chicken contaminated with feces or dropped on the floor, rinsed with a chlorine solution and put back into production
  • Pig carcasses contaminated with grease, blood and dirt due to falling on the floor

There were likely far more violations that went undetected as well. When The Guardian interviewed meat hygiene inspectors, they agreed that violations could inevitably slip through the cracks due to the fast line speeds.

The findings are worrying, to put it mildly, as professor Erik Millstone, a food safety expert at Sussex University, told The Guardian, “ … because of the risks of spreading infectious pathogens from carcass to carcass, and between portions of meat. The rates at which outbreaks of infectious food poisoning occur in the U.S. are significantly higher than in the U.K., or the EU, and poor hygiene in the meat supply chain is [a] leading cause of food poisoning in the U.S..”15

Raw Milk Targeted While Contaminated CAFO Meat Is Subsidized

At Pilgrim’s Pride, a poultry giant that processes 34 million chickens a week, noncompliance reports detail an average of nearly 1,500 regulatory violations a month at 24 plants, spanning a 25-month period, The Guardian investigation revealed:16

“An inspector discovered ‘carcasses of poultry showing evidence of septicemic disease ... carcasses showing evidence of having died from other causes than slaughter ... guts of carcasses, [and] poultry carcasses with heads attached.’ He requested that the condemned items be removed. A similar incident was recorded some days later.”

Poultry CAFOS are among the worst offenders when it comes to foodborne illness (although pork and red meat CAFOs also revealed numerous violations). Case in point, in April 2017, the CDC released a preliminary report stating that 8,547 cases of the more than 24,000 foodborne infections reported in 2016 were caused by campylobacter (compared to 8,172 caused by salmonella).17

It’s likely not a coincidence that these two bugs are then singled out as major drivers of outbreaks related to unpasteurized dairy. The CDC report noted, “ … [O]utbreak-related illnesses will increase steadily as unpasteurized dairy consumption grows, likely driven largely by salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis.”18 It seems strange to peg campylobacter as a “raw milk germ,” when it’s regularly detected on CAFO chicken sold in U.S. supermarkets.

According to the CDC, “Campylobacter was found on 47 percent of raw chicken samples bought in grocery stores and tested through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).”19 The CDC also states:20

“Most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items … Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can have enough campylobacter in it to infect a person! One way to become infected is to cut poultry meat on a cutting board, and then use the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods.”

Also revealing, while campylobacter is the bacteria responsible for most cases of foodborne illness, leafy greens are actually the No. 1 source of food poisoning in the U.S, accounting for nearly half of all illnesses.21 Why, then, is raw dairy considered worthy of banning while the CAFO model is subsidized?

Tips for Finding High-Quality Raw Milk

Raw dairy farmers have been put out of business for mere suspicion of contamination. Even in the absence of a complaint of contamination, farmers and consumers are often harassed over the buying and selling of raw milk. In contrast, Blue Bell Creamery — the third-largest ice cream maker in the U.S. whose ice cream sickened 10 people with listeria, three of whom died as a result, in 2015, was fined just $175,000 for the incident.22

Ultimately, the choice of what to eat should belong to the individual consumer, not the state or federal government. If the FDA and other government agencies are allowed to impose their view of "safe food" on consumers, raw milk won't be the only thing lost — one day virtually all food could be pasteurized, irradiated and/or genetically engineered.

And remember that quality matters. No matter what food you’re in search of, choosing food that comes from small regenerative farms — not CAFOs — is crucial. If you’re interested in raw milk, here are tips for finding high-quality raw milk sources:

Does the farmer and his entire family drink the milk themselves?

Does the farmer test his milk for pathogens, and can he prove that his product has a low pathogenic population?

Are the cows fed with natural grass on a pasture? If not, what are they feeding the cows?

How long has the farmer been in business producing raw milk?

What conditions are the cows raised in? Do they look healthy?

Is the farm accredited with sanitation standards? In a related note, does the farm have a history of sanitation problems?

Is the milk quickly chilled after collecting?

Are cows given antibiotics and growth hormones? (Remember, organic standards do not allow this practice.)

Can CAFOs Force Stores to Buy Their Products?

By Dr. Mercola

Chickens that lay eggs in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) endure some of the cruelest conditions in industrial agriculture. Most hens spend their short lives in “battery cages” that are about the size of a piece of paper — so small the hens cannot spread their wings. Within a year, they lose their feathers and have their skin rubbed raw from the close contact with other birds.

Forced to lay eggs with no privacy (a very stressful situation for a hen) and live with no space, the industry also painfully severs the end of their beaks to prevent the birds from pecking at each other. Severe health problems are common as a result of their immobility, from spinal cord deterioration leading to paralysis to muscle and bone wasting. As for male chicks, the facilities have no use for them, so they’re ground up alive or suffocated in a plastic bag.1

There are public health issues created by CAFOs as well, from the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease to widespread pollution to the fact that CAFO eggs are more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. One study found eggs from hens confined to cages in CAFOs had 7.7 times greater odds of harboring salmonella bacteria than eggs from non-caged hens.2

Battery cages have already been banned in the European Union, but in the U.S., 94 percent of eggs produced come from these inhumane CAFOs.3 The more word has gotten out about the brutal conditions, however, the more demand has increased for more humane eggs — and restaurants and retailers have been listening. About 100 grocery store chains and dozens of restaurants and food manufacturers, including McDonald’s and Walmart, have pledged to stop using caged eggs within the next 10 years.4

According to The Intercept, “These outlets collectively comprise 70 percent of consumer demand in the United States,”5 which is more than enough to prompt real change in the industry. This would require the majority of CAFO egg producers to rethink the cheap way they’re churning out eggs, so not surprisingly there’s been some serious backlash.

Iowa Bill Would Require Stores to Sell CAFO Eggs

A bill introduced in Iowa and already passed by the Iowa House of Representatives would require grocery stores in the state that participate in the Women, Infants and Children federal food assistance program and carry “specialty eggs” such as cage-free or free-range eggs, to also carry CAFO eggs.6

The pitch is that cage-free eggs can be more expensive, so the bill is supposed to protect consumers’ access to cheaper eggs and ensure “consumer choice,” but what it’s really about is protecting the interests of industrialized agriculture. Cody Carlson, an attorney at animal welfare group Mercy for Animals, told The Intercept, “These bills are designed to keep a dying industry afloat that consumers no longer want to support … This is an industry that refuses to change in any meaningful way.”7

It’s incredibly brazen to allow the government to dictate to stores what they must carry, especially when the product in question is one that comes at such a heavy environmental, public health and animal welfare cost. “In Iowa,” The Intercept reported, “the strategy of these corporations now rests on overriding the demands of the market and empowering the government to dictate to stores what they must sell — in particular, barring them from refusing to sell eggs that are the products of grotesque cruelty.”8

Proposition 2 Brought More Humane Eggs to California

Americans yield incredible power when it comes to forcing change in the marketplace, as was demonstrated in California with the passage of Proposition 2 in 2008. The ballot initiative, which “passed in a landslide,” prohibited California egg producers (as well as producers of veal calves and pregnant pigs) from keeping hens in cages too small for them to turn around, stand up, lie down or stretch their limbs.

The measure brought at least some relief to hens raised in cages, but at the same time put the state’s egg producers at a disadvantage to producers from other states, who could produce cheaper eggs without Prop. 2 requirements, then ship them to California to be sold. The state remedied this by applying the Prop. 2 standards to all eggs sold in the state. According to The Intercept:9

Since Prop 2’s passage, elected officials in Iowa and other egg-producing states have been vigorously fighting to undercut those laws in order to preserve access to California’s massive consumer market for their own egg producers — without requiring them to invest in better conditions for their hens.”

Ironically, one of the key arguments used against Prop. 2 was that it stood contrary to a free market and kept consumers from their freedom of food choice. Now the tables have turned, and consumers are demanding the right to choose eggs from cage-free hens, but Big Ag doesn’t want to hear about it. Chris Holbein of the Humane Society of the United States told The Intercept:10

“It’s extremely hypocritical that Iowa’s factory farmers have pretended for a long time to care about protecting the free market, because now that the free market is turning against them and in favor of more responsible producers that are trying to do the right thing for consumers and animals, the factory producers want the government to force grocery stores to sell a product that is both unsafe and unethical.”

To date, all measures from Iowa that have tried to target Prop. 2 have failed, including in 2016 when Iowa’s governor and five other state attorneys general sued California’s attorney general in order to block Prop. 2 enforcement. Now, California is taking Prop. 2 a step further and proposals have been made to expand minimum cage sizes. Meanwhile, a ballot initiative in the state is calling to get rid of cages entirely, proposing that all California eggs be produced from cage-free hens.

Government’s History of Protecting CAFOs

The Iowa bill to force stores to carry CAFO eggs is disturbing though not surprising given the government’s history of protecting industrialized agriculture. Consider Vande Bunte Eggs in Michigan, an egg-laying chicken CAFO that houses 1.6 million birds. With more than 200 state permit violations in the span of three years, you might think the facility would be in danger of being shut down.

Instead, it’s received more than $1 million in federal subsidies. The company’s owner, Tim Vande Bunte, also testified in support of Senate Bill 660, which was introduced in December 2017 and would push back the deadline for Michigan egg producers to provide cage-free chicken housing from 2020 to 2025.11

Vande Bunte’s many violations are but one example cited in a report compiled by the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan.12,13 The report analyzed 272 CAFOs in Michigan and found they had collectively received more than $103 million in federal subsidies between 1995 and 2014, all while racking up 644 environmental permit violations by the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, in early 2017, 35 advocacy groups, including Food & Water Watch, called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close federal loopholes that are allowing CAFOs to continue polluting the planet. In a petition, the groups asked the EPA to require CAFOs housing a certain number of animals or using a certain kind of manure management system to obtain a permit. The EPA has said that up to 75 percent of CAFOs need permits but only 40 percent have them.

Iowa has much at stake when it comes to CAFO eggs; the state produces about 1 in 5 eggs produced in the U.S. each year,14 and virtually all of them come from hens kept in battery cages. As the market for CAFO eggs declines, they’re banking on the new bill to force stores to continue selling their unsafe and inhumane product — but that doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Real Regenerative Agriculture Is Poultry-Centered

At the Main Street Project in Northfield, Minnesota, 100 acres of land are serving a very good purpose, hosting a poultry-centered regenerative agriculture system that’s grounded on an ecological, social and economically integrated management system.

“Rather than trying to fix the endless barrage of problems industrial farming has spawned, we simply don’t create those problems in the first place,” the Project notes, using methods such as cover crops, solar heating in chicken coops and perennial plants, including hazelnuts and elderberries, to protect chickens and provide revenue.

Small grains, cover crops and perennials provide a cash crop to farmers while offering nutrition and shelter to the chickens. “[T]he chickens in exchange provide the manure to fertilize not only the paddock and the plants within, but also other vegetables and perennials that provide associated agricultural enterprises in the area,” according to the Project, which continues:15

“Chickens are at the center of our system because they work so well with the crops, farmers and environment. They’re a one-stop weed-eating, bug-killing, soil-enhancing replacement for the counter-productive synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers destroying conventional farms and their communities.

They can also … increas[e] the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. More carbon sequestration means an actual reduction in greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere – something that conservation alone cannot do.”

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, an innovator in the field of regenerative agriculture and chief strategy officer at Main Street, is the principal architect of the poultry-centered regenerative agriculture model used at the Main Street Project. The system he came up with is a blueprint for regenerative farming that can be applied on a larger scale, and with it, he hopes to structure a real, commercially viable, food revolution from the ground up that can be replicated and customized anywhere in the world.

According to Haslett-Marroquin, regenerative agriculture needs to be centered around livestock in order to be optimized, and adding chickens is an easy way to do that. Not only is poultry something that connects every community in the world, but the meat and eggs are also a valuable source of animal protein (critical when dealing with hunger in a permanent way), and can be a solid economic platform to deal with poverty.

Poultry is also very accessible to small-scale farmers, who produce most of the food in the world — an important fact that many are unaware of. The Main Street Project has moved past the proof of concept stage, showing that their poultry-centered, regenerative agriculture prototype works.

They’re now in Stage 2, building an integrated central farm with seven poultry units that has an output of 21,000 meat chickens per year, perennials established (with harvest to come) and annual crops. The next phase is to scale the project into a regional system, the Project notes:16

“ … to the point where we gain significant market share while regenerating soil, protecting our waterways, and supplying the region with nutritious free-range poultry meat and eggs. With greater participation and crop production, we will also see increased expansion into more enterprise sectors — not only selling grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables, but seeing community members turn products into jams, salsas, soups and other value-added products.”

CAFOs Can’t Force You to Buy Their Eggs

The systems the Main Street Program is developing are far superior to conventional ones for integrating poultry into a viable model for providing food for the masses. This system is geared not for those growing food in their backyard, but for creating a larger-scale food system based on small-scale farms that are both sustainable and high-yield (although you can use similar principles in your backyard garden or hobby farm as well).

However, until such systems become the norm instead of the exception, CAFO eggs still dominate the market — a sad truth you have the power to help change. Choosing food that comes from small regenerative farms — not CAFOs — is crucial. While avoiding CAFO meats, dairy and eggs, look for antibiotic-free alternatives raised by organic and regenerative farmers. Unfortunately, loopholes abound, allowing CAFO-raised chickens and eggs to masquerade as "free-range" and "organic."

The Cornucopia Institute addressed some of these issues in their egg report and scorecard, which ranks egg producers according to 28 organic criteria. It can help you to make a more educated choice if you’re buying your eggs at the supermarket. Ultimately, to find safer, more humane and environmentally friendly chicken and eggs, the best choice is to get to know a local farmer and get your meat and eggs there directly.

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