Even though safety protocols are generally followed, the industrialised meat industry in the US is more prone to outbreaks than in Europe, largely because livestock densities are higher and hygiene standards lower.
Antibiotics are used liberally, not just to treat unwell livestock but to stop infections developing at all. Using antibiotics in food production enables bacteria to develop resistance, meaning the drugs will be less effective in humans. Antibiotic resistance is one of the gravest global public health threats, estimated to kill up to 700,000 people each year.
Cargill publicly states that it “supports the prudent and responsible use of antibiotics to help ensure a safe, nutritious and affordable food supply worldwide” and that it is “committed not to use antibiotics that are critically important for human medicines as defined by the World Health Organization”. However, in 2018, a Bureau investigation found that samples from animals slaughtered in Cargill meat-packing plants revealed 11 different antibiotic substances which had been in use within the company’s supply chains – including three classified as being critically important to human health.
Meat industry representatives told the Bureau it was impossible to make meaningful conclusions from the data. The samples only indicated the presence of antibiotics, they pointed out, with no information about why they were administered. Sometimes it was necessary to use critical antibiotics, they said, and all drugs used were approved for use in animals.
We had a dignified life, with forest around us, our streams, and enough food for our people to eat. With the arrival of agribusiness… things became much more difficult
Cargill has also violated various US environmental laws in recent years. Noxious waste from hog farms and fertiliser plants has been spilled into creeks and streams, including in Missouri and Illinois and bays from San Francisco to Tampa, killing countless fish and fouling up wildlife refuges, wetlands and reserves. “It looked like ink, the water,” a farmer said of a 2012 hog waste spill in Illinois. “There were fish all over the place, dead. It wasn’t fit for nothing. Not even a wild animal could drink out of it.”
Air pollution has also been an issue. In 2005, the company reached a settlement with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), following a complaint alleging that it had significantly underestimated its emissions of carbon monoxide and pollutants at oilseed processing plants in 13 states. Ten years later, Cargill agreed to settle with the EPA over alleged Clean Air Act violations – this time for allegedly failing to meet regulations governing pharmaceutical emissions standards at its vitamin E manufacturing facility in Iowa. In both cases the company made no admission of liability.