The Hidden Health Impacts of Factory Farming
World Animal Protection’s new report reveals how factory farming puts public health and the planet’s future at risk.
World Animal Protection’s latest report, The Hidden Health Impacts of Industrial Livestock Systems, exposes how governments worldwide are ignoring the public health toll of factory farming and the suffering of billions of farmed animals.
By 2030, meat consumption is projected to grow 30% in Africa, 18% in the Asia Pacific, 12% in Latin America, 9% in North America, and 0.4% in Europe. This skyrocketing demand sees billions of stressed animals mutilated and confined to cramped and barren cages or pens for their whole lives. Over 70% of the 80 billion land animals farmed globally are raised and slaughtered within cruel factory farming systems each year, and in the US alone, this number rises to nearly 99%.
The five worst health impacts of factory farming
As demand for meat and dairy grows, factory farming will continue, and health impacts will worsen.
The research builds on the concept of five pathways “through which food systems negatively affect our health,” outlined by the World Health Organization.
We detail how these negative health impacts are directly linked to factory farming.
1. Malnutrition and obesity
Factory farming systems have displaced local and sustainable food production. Land is used to plant crops to feed factory-farmed animals, not people, undermining nutrition and food security. At the same time, high volumes of cheap meat produced out of factory farms equate to excessive meat consumption – one of the four leading risk factors for chronic illness.
2. Superbugs and diseases
Three-quarters of the world’s antibiotics are used in farmed animals to prevent them from getting sick, promote fast growth, or treat disease – a practice driving the emergence of superbugs (antimicrobial-resistant bacteria), which leaves us less able to fight infections. New research has found that 1.27 million people die each year from superbugs, and it is estimated that by 2050 this will be the leading cause of death globally. On top of this threat, factory farms squash stressed animals into tightly packed sheds, risking diseases like swine flu or bird flu that can jump to humans.
3. Foodborne illnesses
Cruel factory farming induces immense stress in animals, leaving them prone to bacteria or parasites that can cause foodborne illnesses in people, such as Salmonella. An estimated 35% of all foodborne diseases globally are linked to meat, dairy, or eggs, costing lower-income countries billions in USD in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.
4. Illnesses from environmental contamination
Factory farming produces large amounts of animal waste that pollutes our air with roughly 400 harmful gases. Heavy metals like zinc are added to factory-farmed animals’ diets and are excreted, contaminating waterways. This heavy metal contamination of food causes one million illnesses each year. Pesticides also contaminate our waterways, and more pesticides go to crops destined to feed animals suffering on factory farms than anywhere else. These air and water pollution impacts are felt most by those living close to factory farms and animal feed production.
5. Physical and mental impacts on workers
Within industrial livestock systems, workers’ physical and mental health impacts include poor working conditions, physical injuries when processing large amounts of animals through the factory farming facilities, and psychosocial and mental health issues.
“Factory farms are making us sick. On the surface, factory-farmed meat, fish, and dairy products seem cheap, but they are costing us our health and governments trillions of dollars each year to mop up the damage.
We need to break the cycle of suffering in our food system. Government support for cheap meat is equating to more animals being churned through cruel factory farms. Now is the time for governments to focus on better health outcomes for people, animals, and the planet.
There is no future for factory farms. We need a moratorium on factory farming.”
- Jacqueline Mills, Head of Farming at World Animal Protection
Transforming our food system
Systemic shifts are needed to deliver the biggest health gains for our population. Some of those include re-orientating subsidies away from factory farming towards humane and sustainable practices, supporting efforts to significantly reduce meat and dairy production and consumption in countries with high average per person consumption, improving the affordability of plant-based foods, and providing transition support for farmers no longer wishing to engage in factory farming.
To make these shifts, World Animal Protection is calling for governments around the world to impose a moratorium on factory farms. You can take action by urging your legislators to support the Farm System Reform Act and help ban factory farming.