Factory Farming And The Super Threat To Our Health
While launching a report entitled “Fuelling the pandemic crisis: Factory farming and the rise of superbugs”World Animal protection has warned that Factory farming is also laying foundations for another devastating health crisis currently sitting in Covid-19’s shadow - Antimicrobial Resistance and the rise of Superbugs.
Dr Victor Yamo, Farming campaigns Manager at World Animal Protection said, “Antibiotics are the silent props of factory farming systems, preventing stressed, confined animals from getting sick in the dismal conditions they live in. Currently, seventy five percent (75%) of all antibiotics produced globally are used in farming and there is ample science showing how antibiotic overuse on factory farms is leading to antibiotic resistant organisms (Superbugs) which are spreading to the farm workers, the environment and into the food chain ultimately getting to the consumers and the general public.”
Most factory farms rely on appalling animal suffering, worker hardship and misuse of our planet’s resources yet it is not looking to phase itself out. This is despite a 2020 UN report that has found that intensive farming is responsible for more than half of all infectious diseases such as Swine Flu, Bird Flu and Nipah virus, that have moved between animals and people since 1940. The current Covid-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call for factory farming and its regulators around the world. The virus has changed our shopping habits and disrupted complex food supply chains.
World Animal Protection found Superbugs in the food chain in Brazil, Spain, Thailand and United States. A review of research work done on the African food chain has confirmed that the situation is not any different here. Superbugs make antibiotics less effective in treating sick people there by having the potential of triggering a global health crisis. Around 700,000 people die annually from superbugs and there could be a significant additional toll from superbugs during the current pandemic and into the future. For instance, up to fifty percent (50%) of Covid-19 deaths in once study in Wuhan, China involved secondary bacterial infections and had to be given antibiotics.
It is estimated that some ten (10) million deaths are expected annually by 2050 with the poorest countries affected disproportionately. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that we could reach a stage where we have organisms resistant to all antibiotics because of the superbug crisis – a post-antibiotic era. This means commonplace ailments could suddenly become dangerous, perhaps impossible to treat because of bacterial resistance to the available antibiotics.
Is there an alternative to factory farming that can mitigate against superbugs? Yes, farm animals in high welfare systems have reduced stress, improved immunity and hence resilient to disease. Such systems require fewer antibiotics. For example, Sweden has regulations to ensure piglets remain with their mothers for a minimum of 28 days following birth – this has improved immunity and robustness of the piglets allowing the farmers to significantly reduce antibiotics usage. A WHO-funded study shows that restricting antibiotic use in food-producing animals leads to a reduction in the presence of superbugs in these animals which in turn, is associated with up to 24% lower superbugs in the human population.
In the report, World Animal Protection recommends the ending of factory farming and moving to a more sustainable food system in order to address the current superbug threat and reduce the risk of the next pandemic crisis coming from farm animals. To achieve, this we are calling for concerted action from the global retail, finance and animal production sectors; governments and intergovernmental organizations to come together to phase out factory farming.
Dr. Yamo further adds that “Stopping this cruel and inefficient system dependent on antibiotic overuse is vital to improve animal welfare and protect animal health, people’s health and ultimately the global economies from the impact of future pandemics.”