By Theodora Filis
Public health concerns beyond food borne illness are created when over-crowded animalsare susceptible to infection and disease. Industrial livestock facilities treat animals with low-levels of antibiotics to prevent illness and promote weight gain. This creates a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The sub-therapeutic dosages used on millions of factory-farmed livestock can reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics for human patients. The feed used for livestock can also introduce public health threats. Broiler chickens often receive arsenic-based feed additives to promote pinker flesh and faster growth, and beef cattle continue to be fed with animal byproducts, which increases the risk of mad cow disease.
According to the FDA, approximately 80% of all antibiotics used in the US are fed to farm animals for non-therapeutic purposes.
Routine administration of antibiotics has the harmful effect of promoting the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Although the low dosage of antibiotics kills many bacteria, the stronger bacteria that survive can reproduce and pass their resistance to future generations. Since bacteria are able to reproduce in as little as 20 minutes, routine administration of antibiotics can induce the rapid development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can spread directly to humans and animals. When manure is spread onto fields or stored in manure lagoons, these bacteria can also contaminate waterways and groundwater. In fact, scientists have detected antibiotic-resistant bacteria in groundwater as far as 250 meters away from manure lagoons.
Rise of the Super-bug
The rise of factory farming is as a result of public policy choices driven by big agribusinesses, especially meat packers and processors that dominate the critical steps taken between farm and consumer. The silos and gentle meadows portrayed in advertisements are a sham. With tens of thousands of animals comes millions of tons of manure and adds to the increased polluting of waterways, groundwater, air and soil. Wetlands have been destroyed; beautiful rivers and tributaries turned into algae choked cesspools devoid of life, pastures ruined by excess nitrates, phosphates and toxic residues from antibiotics, hormones and even dangerous heavy metals. Oceans are so filled with industrial effluents and animal factory waste that it is no longer safe to eat any ocean creature, all are contaminated by excess levels of mercury, cadmium and other trace metals.
Most of the pork, beef, poultry, dairy and eggs produced in the US come from large-scale, confined livestock operations.
Large-scale farms do not produce healthy or safe food, and in no way maintain our environment. The growth of factory farms, in recent decades, is decimating the small and medium scale livestock farms that provide good food for us, and good economies for rural communities. Industrial livestock operations create public health hazards with over-crowded facilities making it easy for disease to spread. When thousands of beef cattle are packed into feedlots full of manure, bacteria can get on their hides and then into the slaughterhouses. Contamination on even one steer can contaminate thousands of pounds of meat inside a slaughterhouse. In 2010, the crowded, unsanitary conditions at two Iowa egg companies caused a recall of more than half a billion potentially Salmonella-tainted eggs.
As antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread, medicines used to treat human diseases can become less effective, which poses a significant threat to public health. The Institute of Medicine estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause US health care costs to increase by four to five billion dollars each year.
Factory farms threaten human health by incubating infectious diseases that can spread to the human population. Diseases can be transferred directly from animals to humans, or from an animal serving as a “mixing vessel” for a new strain of a disease. In cases of direct transmission, a worker who comes in contact with a diseased animal or its manure can contract the disease and pass it on to family and the surrounding community.
In other cases, an animal infected with one disease can contract a second disease from another animal, causing the diseases to mix and form a new type of illness.
Scientists suggest that a virus passed from hogs to humans may have caused the 1918 “Spanish Influenza” pandemic which eventually killed 40 million people worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control has expressed concern that another similar epidemic will occur in the future.