SEATTLE — It has become a well-known fact that factory farming is harmful to the animals. Less well-known is that factory farming of animals is also detrimental to human health. An open letter signed by more than 200 scientists, global experts and environmental activists outlines the negative impact the growing industrial farming industry has on global health. The letter highlights the antibiotics with which production facilities inject their animals to keep them “healthy” and to increase growth in a short amount of time. These injections have produced antibiotic-resistant microbes, causing increasing numbers of infections globally.
These infections are mainly impacting middle and low-income areas where industrial farming is becoming a more popular source of meat production. According to the open letter, these areas “are estimated to experience rapid growth of both factory farming and antibiotic consumption through agriculture, in part because they may lack the regulatory oversight and veterinary medical workforce that high-income countries have.” This is a huge health risk because of the higher bacterial burden that comes from developing countries’ inability to access strong enough antibiotics to counter the consequences of antibiotic-resistant microbes.
Industrial farms contribute to antibiotic resistant microbes, climate change and chronic disease. Factory farming generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. A 2014 study shows that the gases generated by factory farming accounted for most of the world’s carbon budget that year.
The kind of diet industrial farming products encourage is another worry for scientists. According to the New York Times, “the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that over half a million deaths happen worldwide in 2015 are linked to diets high in processed and red meats, which the [World Health Organization (WHO)] classifies as carcinogenic.” Such diets lead to higher risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes due to the heavy processing and high sodium and fat levels within the meat.
The open letter addresses this expanding issue and implores the WHO to take action. The document concludes with a push for decreased meat consumption worldwide as well as encouraging healthier meat alternatives. It also outlines steps the WHO can take to make this a reality. These include banning the use of growth-promoting antibiotics and advocating for better alternative methods that would reduce antibiotic-resistant microbes. The letter also calls for nutrition standards, educational campaigns to make consumers more aware of the food they are ingesting, funding for research into alternative plant-based foods and the end of subsidies for factory farming.
Moving towards a plant-based diet would reduce and potentially eliminate the harmful effects of factory farming. Although the elimination of factory farming may never happen, the development of alternatives is likely to be beneficial for human health.
– Taylor Elgarten