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HS 258 – Gene Baur on Eating Mindfully And the Maltreatment of Animals In The Food Industry

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Gene Baur is a practicing vegan and the founder of Farm Sanctuary. He has written two books on the concept of eating mindfully and the awful conditions livestock are being raised in. He talks to Jason on antibiotic resistance in both farm life and people, hormones in our food, GMO, and much more on today’s show.

 

Key Takeaways:
3:15 – Why are farmers feeding their animals antibiotics?
7:25 – The agribusiness has an invested interesting in not finding key problems in the food system.
13:10 – Can plant foods provide the protein that humans need?
18:05 – Jason and Gene talk about hacking food DNA and creating food in a lab.
21:30 – Is it more or less expensive to eat properly?

 

Mentioned In This Episode:
http://www.wired.com/2015/04/diy-biotech-vegan-cheese/
FarmSanctuary.org

 

Tweetables:
“There’s been outbreaks of e. coli that are resistant to pathogens because of the overuse of antibiotics.”

“I think cars were invented to go 26.2 miles, not people.”

“We eat a very bad diet and our health suffers. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

 

Transcript

Jason Hartman:
It’s my pleasure to welcome Gene Baur to the show. He is president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary. Author of the new best selling book, Living The Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Everday. He is also the author of Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food. Gene, welcome, how are you?

Gene Baur:
I am doing great. Thank you very much for having me.

Jason:
It’s good to have you and so you used to live on the farm, I guess, and now you’re in the city, right, you’re in Washington, DC?

Gene:
That is correct. I live in the Washington, DC area. I do a lot of travel and work to raise awareness about our factory farming system and the problems with it.

Jason:
Yeah, well, there are definitely issues there. So, let’s dive in and talk about them. What are some of those problems and issues?

Gene:
Well, the animals that are raised for food in the US are treated like commodities, not like living feeling creatures. They live in these small cages for their whole lives unable to even turn around in some cases. They suffer physically and psychologically. They are under chronic stress. They are fed antibiotics on a routine basis. In fact, most of the antibiotics used in the US are fed to farm animals to keep them alive and growing in these inhuman conditions and then of course when humans eat these animals, they may have antibiotic resistant pathogens, you know, plus we just eat way too many animal products in the US and we are seeing health problems that result from that.

So, this factory farming system is bad for animals. It is bad for consumers and it’s also bad for the environment, because it squanders scarce resources like water and fossil fuels and land and it is producing a product that could, you know, we could eat much more efficiently if we ate plant foods instead of animal foods.

Jason:
Well, when I read John Robbins book Diet for a New America in my 20s, it inspired me to become a, frankly, not too strict vegetarian for six years. His arguments made a lot of sense. He called that eating low on the food chain and that seems to make a lot of sense to me as well, but talk a little bit about the antibiotic issue. So, why are they feeding all of these factory farm animals antibiotics all the time, because they’re getting sick and they would just die and get infections because they are so crowded, is that the reason?

Gene:
Yes. That is part of the reason and, you know, the industry doesn’t actually know what the exact biological impact of these antibiotics is, but what they have found is by including these drugs in the animals feed, the animals grow faster and so it is cheaper and that’s really the bottom of the line for the industry, so they’re using these antibiotics and the reason is too, these are filthy, stressful conditions. So, feeding them antibiotics does keep them alive when they may die otherwise.

Jason:
You know, one of the things that’s interesting here Gene is this issue of super bugs and how doctors now are being told to really withhold prescribing antibiotics in the fear of if they just keep doling them out, all the bugs become resistant and that might be the end to us. Is there are problem related to that here too? Are they taking a whole list of antibiotics or just one or two?

Gene:
No, it’s a whole list and the problem is that, you know, the pathogens become resistant to one group of antibiotics, so then they introduce a new group of antibiotics and the same thing holds in human medicine and the problem is these pathogens are involving quicker and quicker and the antibiotics are becoming less and less effective and so this is bad for animals, but it also threatens human health when we have these pathogens that are evolving and becoming resistant to what were formally life-saving drugs.

The bottom line is that, you know, we need to live holistically. We need to recognize that our behaviors have consequences and we are part of the earth and we have microbes in us and to have healthy microbes and to live without trying to kill various bacteria I think is wiser than killing like we’re trying to do in the factory farming system and also in our food system generally. We have a very sterile food system and a little bit of dirt, a little bit of bacteria is okay and our bodies respond to that, so there’s a lot of problems here and antibiotics to farm animals is one of the big ones.

Jason:
Is there any real proof that consuming animals and animal products that have been pumped up with these antibiotics do anything to humans? I mean, do we know that for sure or, honestly, is that proven?

Gene:
Oh yeah. There’s been outbreaks of e. coli for example that have been made resistant to pathogens because of the overuse of antibiotics in the food systems and those antibiotics were not able to fight off the disease in humans. So, there have been cases linked to animal products, you know, tainted with these pathogens

Jason:
Okay, fair enough, but that’s really kind of the big broad issue and I agree with you there, that’s a huge concern, because if we can’t fight the bugs and these super bugs, you know, they could take over the world and wipe us out. It really is a pretty scary thing to think about, but is there a more immediate problem of consuming these animals products that have been pumped up with antibiotics. I want to ask you about hormones too, you didn’t even mention that, but just the antibiotic part.

Gene:
Yeah, well, it’s hard to prove this stuff sometimes and even the tobacco industry, as you may recall, was arguing that there’s no scientific evidence that cigarettes cause cancer.

Jason:
Oh, well yeah, c’mon.

Gene:
I know, it’s ridiculous, but the challenge with science is that, you know, it is talking about probabilities and the likelihood of certain things and agribusiness has a vested interest in not finding certain problems. There’s this sort of don’t look, don’t find approach and, you know, billions and billions of dollars being made on the status quo. So, there’s really not been the sort of research we would like to see to look at the consequences of our food system, the way it is. I mean, even the case of mad cow disease.

There was a very strong effort, I believe, not to find that in the US and we actually had litigation against the US Department of Agriculture and they finally admitted that we finally had mad cow disease in the US, but there’s a very strong interest in not finding these problems, because if they do it’s a liability and the other thing is that sometimes the illnesses that result from eating cows with mad cow disease, for instance, you know, takes years to manifest in human beings. So, it’s kind of hard sometimes to directly link, you know, somebody eating a hamburger to a particular health problem like dementia. In the case of mad cow disease or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, so this is, there’s a lot that’s not known and I think that frankly the industry does not want to look very closely.

Jason:
I want to ask you about, you know, vegetarianism and veganism and, you know, here’s one of my big problems with it and just so you know where I’m coming from and the listeners know where I’m coming from, I’m going to tell ya, okay. So, I believe and feel free to ague with me, I’m sure you will, but you have my permission. I believe we’re meant to omnivores, okay, I do agree with you that Americans, especially, maybe in other countries too, but I know Americans do consume too many animal products.

I think that, you know, when we consume an animal product and I know you could argue this evolutionary stuff like every wish way to Sunday, but just seems logical to me this way is that, you know, when we were living in caves and we would hunt and we would catch an animal. Animals are hard to catch, okay, so you know, it would be more of an occasion, a celebration, you know, hey, we brought home the kill. This was a special thing. It was a rare thing and most of the rest of the time, we’d be living off plant products, okay, so it didn’t mean that we were having animal products three times a day, you know, like most Americans do.

So, I kind of take a middle ground on it, but my problem with giving up animal products is that the animal products are very protein dense and one of my favorite little vegan restaurants had this board up sign as you wait in line to get your fantastic food, by the way, he had this little sign up that said, you know, think vegans and vegetarians don’t get enough protein? Well, here’s how much protein quinoa has and here’s how much protein lentils have, and blah blah blah.

The reality of that is it’s a myth, because it doesn’t have as much protein per gram or per ounce as any animal product. Yes, you can get some protein from that stuff, but it’s not protein dense. I look around at, I mean, I know there’s some exceptions to all of this stuff, but I look around and, you know, people that vegan/vegetarian, they just don’t seem like they have really good muscle tone usually and protein is the building block of muscles. So, go ahead and take issue with me, please, that’s my stump speech, okay. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Gene:
Not a problem. Well, you know, I think as you say, Americans eat way too much meat and I think where you sit on this issue that people should eat less and that historically human beings ate very little and, you know, often times I think we would actually scavenge. So, we are primarily plant eaters and that is certainty where you and I would agree. The question about whether we can live well with only plants and no animal product that is one where I would say yes we can and in terms of protein.

You know, the average American gets way too much protein and I’ve been vegan since 1985 and I’ve done several marathons over the past two years, done several triathlons including an iron man. I’m in my 50s now and my health is good. There are other endurance athletes that Scott Jurek, for example, has one the Western States 100 mile race seven times in a row as a vegan.

Jason:
You’re going to love this next thing I want to say, I’m just going to throw in here, that I don’t think doing all those endurance things are very good for you. I think we are meant to do interval training. I’ve done a bunch of shows on that and, you know, get your heart rate up for a very short minute or two and then let it drop and then get it up again. I think the interval thing is really the key. Listen, that said, I have tons of respect for people that can run a marathon. I’m not going to. I think cars were invented to go 26.2 miles, not people, but it’s amazing that you have the will power to do that. I will give you lots of credit for that.

Gene:
No, but also, I’m just trying to make the point that, you know, that plant based athletes do quite well, get plenty of protein. I mentioned endurance, but I’ll also mention Patrick Baboumian who is a strong man out of Germany. He broke a world record about a year or two ago. Carried more weight than any human ever carried as a vegan and this guy has got thighs that are massive, you know, and if you look at, you know, some of the strongest animals on the planet, elephants, you know, they’re vegetarian right. So, I mean, I think the question is, can plant foods provide the protein we need to thrive and I believe they can and you may have a different opinion about that.

Jason:
Talk about the hormones. I mean, listen, the one thing we’ll definitely agree on is that factory farming is cause for concern, okay, and I think all of our listeners will agree on that. I mean, you know, if you’re going to eat animal products, free range, of course, not pumped full of hormones. What about the hormone element. You didn’t even bring that up originally. I was kind of wondering why.

Gene:
Well, you know, there’s actually not that many hormones used for certain animals. Hormones are used with beef cattle, they’re used on diary farms, but they are generally not used with pigs or with poultry. So, there have been instances though of precocious puberty that have been linked to the consumption of chicken products and you know, one of the feelings, again, there’s not been a lot of research on this and there’s a strong incentive to not look very closely on the part of agribusiness.

Jason:
Right, right, because whenever there’s money in something, you know, everybody turns the other way, including, you know, global warming, which there’s money in it! I think that’s a bit of a scam, you know, that’s another discussion.

Gene:
Yeah, but on the hormone thing is one thing I would say is that the farm animals being raised today including on less, on what are so called free range farms, have been genetically bred to grow twice as big and twice as fast as normal. See if chickens now reaching slaughter weight at 40 something days old.

Jason:
That can not be okay. There’s got to be something bad about that.

Gene:
Yes, so these are chickens that have been genetically bred in such a way that they probably have enormous amounts of hormones coursing through their bodies. So, eating those animals, I think, although there’s not hormones fed to them or injected in them are, you know, hormone heavy and I think that has a consequences to humans and a lot of the free range farms actually use those genetically altered animals, so even free range chicken, for instance, will include chickens that are genetically modified. I’ve been to these places too. I’ve been to some so called humane farms, local farms, farms for example that were featured in Food Inc. as the good farm and, you know, saw these chickens that were not living very well and were growing a lot faster than they should naturally be growing.

Jason:
Yeah, that can not be okay. You know, I’m curious to see what you think and it’s getting really weird out there wit science, but it’s also pretty amazing. What do you think of the hamburger that was made in a lab? I think now they’ve made milk in a lab too. Is that okay? I mean, I guess that’s, you know, when we get into this, I’ve done several shows on the GMO issue and I’m not exactly sure where to land on that one yet, probably few people are. I mean, that’s just all GMO right? How do they make a burger in a lab or milk in a lab. It’s “real” beef and “real” milk, but it’s not..

Gene:
I don’t know about the milk one, but the beef one. You know, they start with cells of a cow and they replicate them in a lab and the idea is to produce meat, literally, from the cells and the technology has got a little way to go to be economically viable and I have mixed feelings about that, but there are also companies that are developing meatless meats that taste a lot like meat. There’s one called the beast burger that just came out from a company called Beyond Meat.

Jason:
Is it a soy product?

Gene:
It’s, I think there’s some soy in it, but there’s also pea protein and there’s other type of plant-based proteins.

Jason:
What do you think of the soy thing? I mean, everybody says soy is dangerous, it’s just not good..

Gene:
I think that’s overstated, frankly. I think with, you gotta also look at what kind of soy. Is it genetically modified soy or is it more organic or more holistic soy, whole food soy, and then there’s processed foods, there’s so many elements here. My basic feeling is that the closer you get to the source of the food, eating whole foods instead of processed foods, eating plant food instead of animal foods, those tend to be positive steps in a good direction.

Jason:
Yeah, that’s a reasonable thesis. So, I’ll just tell ya, I looked it up while you were talking, this article is in Wired Magazine and it is April 15th, so it’s very recent. It says cow milk without the cow is coming to change food forever and I’m looking at the online version, so it is online, and it just talks about this company Counter Culture Labs takes its name pretty literally, a bio lab, and they basically created milk and they’ve got another product, real vegan cheese that they’ve created too and they’re talking about like hacking the DNA. I mean, I don’t know, a lot of these stuff is pretty scary, you know.

Gene:
Yeah, there’s some really great nut cheeses now that are cultured so they have a tang like cheddar and things like that. There’s almond milk, there’s soy milk, there’s coconut milk, there’s a lot of different plant-base alternatives to cows milk that I really like and they are wildly available now in mainstream grocery stores, so that’s generally what I do and what I prefer, but you know, we’ll see what happens with these other products. I think when you start getting in and splicing genes, I start getting a little bit nervous.

Jason:
Yeah, well, the affects may not show up for 30 years. That’s the scary part and that’s what we don’t know about the GMO thing either. I will say there is a fantastic cheese. I ordered a slice of pizza at Wholefoods Market once and it was made with this vegan cheese called, I think, Diaria cheese.

Gene:
Daiya, Daiya. Yep, it’s made out of tapioca root.

Jason:
Oh my gosh, that was phenomenal. That was the best piece of pizza I have ever had in my life. I couldn’t believe how good it was.

Gene:
Yeah, they’re starting to have some really great vegan cheeses and that was the one thing that we were sort of missing, but now there’s Daiya and there’s these other, you know, high-end cheeses that are being produced now that are all plant-based.

Jason:
What do you say to the people that say, you know, if it wasn’t for companies like Monsanto or, you know, the engineering of the food and the pesticides and all of this stuff that, yes, maybe there are health issues that we know yet or maybe we do know. I guess it depends who you’re talking to. There won’t be an agreement on that, but you know, in the 70s, everybody was saying people were just going to starve and we were going to have famine and, you know, it’s sort of hard to criticize them a lot because they’ve kept the price of food reasonably low. I mean, adjusted for inflation and, you know, there’s no reason for people in the world to be hungry. Granted, it’s a distribution and a problem with flaws in the system, but the food is there. We could feed everybody.

Gene:
There is a lot of food, but I’m not sure that it is necessarily Monsanto that is brought it to us and also, you know, there’s external costs associated with our cheap food system. Things like health care. People go bankruptcy, because they can’t pay their medical bills and often times the aliments they’re suffering from like heart disease or cancer or diabetes, the risks of those can be seriously lessened by eating a healthier more plant-based diet. So, when you have corn produced in massive quantities used as animal feed and then you have it processed into things like corn syrup and people eating that. Yes, it’s cheap, but it’s also hazardous to us and so..

Jason:
It’s more expensive to us in the long run.

Gene:
Yes, absolutely.

Jason:
Does it cost more? I remember once on a Thanksgiving I volunteered to work in a soup kitchen and I just found it kind of odd that I was the thinnest person there. I was serving people that were just massively overweight in some cases. Is it more expensive or less expensive to eat right? I mean, vegetables aren’t very expensive.

Gene:
No, they aren’t and I think a lot depends on what a person, you know, how a person chooses to eat, so it does not have to be expensive to eat right. You know, just as an example, instead of buying potato chips, you take that same money and buy a sack of potatoes and you have much more nutrition. It’s better bang for the buck in terms of what you spend and what you get and you’re healthier, I think we have bad habits in this country. We eat a very bad diet and our health suffers and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jason:
Well, good stuff. Give out your website, Gene, tell people where they can find out more and find the book.

Gene:
Yes, the organization is Farm Sanctuary. Our website is FarmSanctuary.org and the most recent book is called Living The Farm Sanctuary Life. It is on Amazon and it’s also available at other online book sellers.

Jason:
Closing thoughts about this, just wrap it all up for us, if you would.

Gene:
Yeah, well, everyday we make choices about what we eat and those choices have very significant consequences for our own health, but also for the planet and by eating plants instead of animals, we can do good for ourselves, for animals, and for the planet.

Jason:
Gene Baur, thank you for joining us.

Gene:
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

Episode: 258

Guest: Gene Baur

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