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Effects of Factory Farming on Human Health

Factory farming doesn’t just hurt animals; it can also be harmful to human health.

The overuse of antibiotics

Experts have been warning about the dangers of antibiotic resistance for years now – immunity arises from overuse – and the message is to take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary or their effect is diminished.

Animals on factory farms are routinely treated with antibiotics, because they may otherwise become ill or die living in the cramped, dirty conditions of intensive farms. Some farmers also use antibiotics as a way to encourage faster growth.

New Zealand ‘meat chickens’ are routinely fed antibiotics to prevent necrotic enteritis, a disease that spreads rapidly in overcrowded conditions. Compassion in World Farming in the UK says that, globally, 50{a45acdedd74c9a504fc493a5338636f9a8e9f4c1cd9551367c9fc4ceb1a1fe5b} of all antibiotics are used on farm animals. In New Zealand the Green Party has said this figure is about 60{a45acdedd74c9a504fc493a5338636f9a8e9f4c1cd9551367c9fc4ceb1a1fe5b}.

In 2011, according to a Ministry of Agriculture study, more than half of young calves, as well as 55{a45acdedd74c9a504fc493a5338636f9a8e9f4c1cd9551367c9fc4ceb1a1fe5b} of pigs and 35{a45acdedd74c9a504fc493a5338636f9a8e9f4c1cd9551367c9fc4ceb1a1fe5b} of poultry tested for a MAF study were resistant to a range of antibiotics. The MAF study also showed resistant bacteria could be passed on to humans in meat products. Yet healthy animals are consistently still dosed with antibiotics for commercial reasons.

As this resistance filters down to humans through the food chain, ultimately, human lives will be threatened. In the era before antibiotics, infectious diseases were a major cause of death – we could see this happening again because of modern farming methods. The Director-General of the World Health Organisation warned in 2011: “the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era.”

Read the report ‘Case Study of a Health Crisis’

NZ Herald March 2013: Collapse of antibiotics ‘colossal threat’

The spread of disease

Although diseases transmitted from animals to humans are not a new phenomenon, industrial farming of animals has increased drastically the likelihood and incidence of it occurring. According to Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Farm Production: “Crowded conditions mean infection and disease spread like wildfire. Industrial farms are super-incubators for viruses.”

‘Mad cow disease'(BSE) is thought to be a direct consequence of industrial agriculture, as ground-up animal parts were routinely fed to cows as a protein supplement. Humans may contract the disease (in human form vCJD) by consuming infected beef. Even now, New Zealand does not allow people who have visited the UK (where BSE was first found) during the infected period to give blood here.

Swine influenza virus (H1N1) is found throughout pig populations worldwide with the first reported case of transmission to humans in 1918. In 2007 an outbreak of the H1N1 strain spread internationally, leading to a pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Bird or avian flu (H5N1) is an infectious disease of birds caused by strains of the influenza virus. There are now over 140 different strains recognised worldwide. Millions of birds worldwide have been killed in efforts to contain the disease. But many believe that the key to stopping the spread of diseases such as these lies with looking at how they started. Michael Greger, MD says, “In a sense, pandemics aren’t born-they’re made. H5N1 may be a virus of our own hatching coming home to roost.”

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