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Report Highlights Consequences of Intensive Farming Practices

03 June 2013

US - The intensification of modern farming is an increasing hazard for human health. That is the stark message of a new report released by Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

The report, Zoonotic Diseases, Human Health and Farm Animal Welfare , warns that the increasing tendency to rear animals in confined spaces, our growing consumption of animals reared in unsafe systems, and the increased industrialization of farming is putting human health at risk.

The bacteria Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli all cause serious disease in people, and can even be fatal. Intensive farming practices are increasing the risk of these bacteria in our food, as stressed animals become more susceptible to infection.

The report finds the risk of swine and bird flu pandemics could be increased by intensive pig and poultry farms. These farms are often in the same area, having concentrated numbers of confined animals, potentially enhancing the risk of avian influenza transferring to pigs. The reassortment of the virus can lead to new strains that are infectious to humans. Additionally, the transporting of animals over long distances also increases the risk of spread and mixing of virus strains from animals to each other.

Levels of Enterohaemorrhagic E.Coli (EHEC) in the UK and the US are very different, which is likely due to the intensive farming of beef cattle in the US. Rather than rearing cattle on pasture, which is common in the UK, cattle are fed grain in feedlots increasing E. coli in the gut of cattle, which can contaminate meat at slaughter.

Studies of beef cattle in the US indicate EHEC may be present in the intestines or on the hides of 20-28 per cent of cattle at slaughter and in 43 per cent of meat samples after processing. Levels in the UK are lower, with only 4.7 per cent of cattle intestine samples testing positive. The US has around 73,000 human cases a year, compared to fewer than 1,000 in England and Wales, a significant difference even when the population discrepancy is taken into account.

The report also reaffirms that eggs from hens in cages are likely to have a higher risk of Salmonella in comparison to eggs from hens in cage-free systems, particularly in countries where hens are not routinely vaccinated against the bacteria, such as the US. As 95 percent of eggs in the US come from caged systems, this is a major risk for consumer health.

Dil Peeling, Director of Campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, said: "Our new report makes for worrying reading. We need to act to defuse this human health time bomb before it's too late.

"Animals need, and deserve, to be in higher welfare systems. This report suggests that, as well as being better for animals, higher welfare systems mean less of a disease risk for us. The risks posed by intensive farming are real and need to be addressed for our health and the health of our children."

WSPA Chief Scientific Advisor Michael Appleby said: "Stress is bad for both animals and humans. It increases susceptibility to infection and disease, with potentially serious effects. To protect both animal and human health, managing animals in ways that ensure their welfare must be a priority."

The report finds that Governments, Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs) and the food production industry must work together to implement the following recommendations: reduction of antibiotics for healthy animals; development of food supply chains that minimize animal stress; limiting transport and ensuring humane slaughter of animals on or near the farm where they were raised; and support for the development of higher welfare livestock herds.

Further Reading

You can download the report by clicking here.

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