Research findings released by World Animal Protection have laid bare the most damaging human health impacts linked to industrial livestock production systems.
These include; emergence of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), increased zoonotic pathogens and rising human illnesses from consumption of livestock derived foods containing food safety hazards in Africa.
The report, titled “The Hidden Health Impacts of Industrial Livestock Systems” exposes how governments around the world are turning a blind eye to the public health toll of factory farming as well as the suffering of billions of farmed animals.
The report builds on the concept of five pathways “through which food systems negatively affect our health” as outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in their 2021 report Food Systems Delivering Better Health.
It further shows how these negative health impacts will only get worse as the demand for meat continues to grow.
For instance, by 2030, meat consumption is projected to grow by 30% in Africa.
This skyrocketing demand has billions of stressed animals mutilated and confined to cramped and barren cages or pens for their whole lives.
Over seventy percent of the 80 billion land animals farmed globally are raised and slaughtered within cruel industrial livestock production systems annually.
Experts detail how these negative health impacts are directly linked to industrial livestock production systems, characterised by substandard husbandry practices and poor animal welfare, and have further identified that African Governments are most significantly fueling the emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and increasing foodborne illnesses.
Dr. Victor Yamo, farming campaigns manager, World Animal Protection, said the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in Africa is driven by weak regulatory capacity of government agencies charged with the responsibility of managing the production, registration, distribution and utilisation of these products leading to the rampant misuse of these products.
For instance, he explained that the law requires that antimicrobial drugs be purchased against a prescription, but our farmers can purchase the same over the counter without a prescription.
“The situation is further compounded by the inadequate extension personnel on the ground to advice the farming community on innovative and good animal welfare, animal husbandry and animal health practices such as good biosecurity, proper nutrition, housing, stocking densities, hygiene & sanitation and infection, prevention and control (IPC) strategies which would render the need for use of antimicrobial drugs unnecessary, “he noted.
The report highlights that three-quarters of the world’s antibiotics are used in farmed animals, either to prevent them 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, industrial livestock production systems squash animals into tightly packed sheds, risking disease like swine flu or bird flu that can jump to humans.
Activists said animals cruelly packed in such shades are often immensely stressed leaving them prone to infection by bacteria or parasites that can cause foodborne illness in humans, such as Salmonella.
An estimated 35% of all foodborne diseases globally are linked to meat, dairy or eggs, which is costing lower income countries billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and medical expenses.
Dr. Lian Thomas, Scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) said Industrial livestock farming requires the production of a high density of genetically homogenous animals, which leads to the quick spread of diseases, many of which can directly affect human health.
“The health of farmed animals and their environment must be a high priority for the public health sector. Sustainable food systems which promote good animal health and welfare, and environmental protection, will directly protect human health, “he said.
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, improving 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 has called for African governments to impose a moratorium on Industrial livestock production systems, introduce and enforce higher farmed animal welfare standards like the Farm Animals Responsible Minimum Standards (FARMS)
Jacqueline Mills, head of farming, at World Animal Protection, said industrial livestock production systems are not only cruel to the animals that they produce but are also making us sick.
“On the surface, the meat, eggs, fish and dairy products produced by these systems seem cheap, but they are costing us our health and our governments trillions of dollars each year to mop up the damage they cause, “she said.