Public Health Impacts

Public health impacts from factory farming

Public Health Impacts

  • Seventy-five percent of the antibiotics used on livestock are not absorbed by the animals and are excreted in waste, posing a serious risk to public health. (Worldwatch Institute, 2011)
  • Animal waste contains disease-causing pathogens, such as Salmonella, E. coli, Cryptosporidium, and fecal coliform, which can be 10 to 100 times more concentrated than in human waste. More than 40 diseases can be transferred to humans through manure. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • One of the most serious unintended consequences of industrial food animal production is the growing public health threat of these types of facilities. In addition to the contribution of IFAP (Industrial Farm Animal Production) to the major threat of antimicrobial resistance (Smith et al., 2002 Smith et al., 2007), IFA (Industrial Farm Animal) facilities can be harmful to workers, neighbors, and even those living far from the facilities through air and water pollution, and via the spread of disease. People who work in and are neighbors of IFAP facilities experience high levels of respiratory problems, including asthma. A lack of appropriate treatment of enormous amounts of waste may result in contamination of nearby waters with harmful levels of nutrients and toxins, as well as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, all of which can affect the health of people both near and far from IFAP facilities. (Pew Commission, A Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production)
  • In this country, roughly 29 million pounds of antibiotics—about 80 percent of the nation’s antibiotics use in total—are added to animal feed every year, mainly to speed livestock growth. This widespread use of antibiotics on animals contributes to the rise of resistant bacteria, making it harder to treat human illnesses and creates a resistance to antibiotics. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • Dirty, crowded conditions on factory farms can propagate sickness and disease among the animals, including swine influenza (H1N1), avian influenza (H5N1), foot-and-mouth disease, and mad-cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). These diseases not only translate into enormous economic losses each year—the United Kingdom alone spent 18 to 25 billion dollars in a three-year period to combat foot-and-mouth disease—but they also lead to human infections. (Worldwatch Institute)
  • In 1996 the Centers for Disease Control established a link between spontaneous abortions and high nitrate levels in Indiana drinking water wells located close to feedlots. High levels of nitrates in drinking water also increase the risk of methemoglobinemia, or “blue-baby syndrome,” which can kill infants. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • Runoff of chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, killing millions of fish and causing skin irritation, short-term memory loss and other cognitive problems in local people. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • Manure from dairy cows is thought to have contributed to the disastrous Cryptosporidium contamination of Milwaukee’s drinking water in 1993, which killed more than 100 people, made 400,000 sick and resulted in $37 million in lost wages and productivity. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans, but at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)

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