Your health

Factory farming threatens our health, producing lower quality, less healthy food and encouraging the growth of infectious pathogens.

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It’s not just farm animals that suffer from factory farming – our health is also put at risk. The provenance of our meat and dairy products can affect their quality and nutritional values. And with their focus on high numbers and confined spaces, factory farms can be the perfect breeding grounds for infectious zoonotic* diseases.

Bad meat, bad health

Some factory farmed products have been shown to be less nutritious. Recent studies1 have shown that meat from intensively farmed animals can have lower levels of beneficial omega-3 and a less favourable ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. An inadequate intake of omega-3 and an unbalanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 have been linked with cardiovascular disease and certain cancers2. A recent Compassion in World Farming report shows that extensively farmed animal products often contain higher levels of antioxidants, iron and lower levels of fat3. The rise of factory farming and ‘cheap’ meat has also led to significant overconsumption problems in many countries around the world; heavy red and processed meat consumption has been linked to a number of serious health-related conditions, including obesity, diabetes and cancer.

Heavy red meat consumption can increase the risk of some cancers developing by as much as 43%.

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) (2011)4

Food-borne illnesses

The conditions on a typical factory farm – where animals are forced to live in close proximity to one another in cramped spaces – facilitate the spread of bacterial pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella. These can cause gastroenteritis in humans and, in extreme cases, death.

A large-scale UK survey found that battery-cage farms are six times more likely than non-cage farms to be infected with the strain of salmonella most commonly associated with food poisoning.

Veterinary Record (2010)5

Animals and workers crammed together

Cramming animals together in their hundreds or even thousands creates the perfect conditions for diseases to be transmitted and even to mutate into more dangerous strains (Pew Commission, 20086). Farm workers can play a role too; according to an article in Environmental Health Perspectives (20097), industrial farm workers are a key risk for zoonotic infection as a result of their ‘routine and intensive exposure’ to the farm animals, potentially serving as a ‘bridge population’ that could transfer infections from animals to the wider public.

Fifty years ago, a US farmer who raised pigs or chickens might be exposed to several dozen animals for less than an hour a day. Today’s confinement facility worker is often exposed to thousands of pigs or tens of thousands of chickens for eight or more hours each day.

Pew Commission (2008)8

Antibiotics overload

Antibiotics can form an important part of good animal husbandry, preventing sick animals from suffering. However, there is an extreme overuse of these drugs in many factory farms9. Antibiotics are often fed to factory-farmed animals to offset the disease risks posed by overcrowding – this is carried out regardless of whether the animal is infected or not. In some countries, antibiotics are even used to promote growth**. The rampant use of antibiotics in farm animals may well be harming us, driving the development of drug-resistant bacteria, which can reduce our ability to recover from a wide range of food-borne illnesses and diseases10.

Nearly 80% of the total antibiotics distributed in 2009 in the US were for farm animals.

US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) (2009)11,12

* Zoonotic diseases are those diseases that can pass between animals and humans

** The use of antibiotics to promote farm animal growth is outlawed in the EU but legal in a number of countries, including the United States

But don't just take our word for it

Eating large amounts of red and processed meats increases exposure to toxins and is linked to higher rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) (2011)13

Animal waste from large factory farms is threatening our health, the water we drink and swim in, and the future of our nation's rivers, lakes, and streams

National Resources Defense Council (2001)14

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)15

FDA believes the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals for production purposes (e.g., to promote growth or improve feed efficiency) represents an injudicious use of these important drugs.

USFDA (2010)16

So what?

Factory farming threatens our health. By taking action against factory farming, we are not just creating a food and farming revolution; we are also creating a healthier world for ourselves.

Want to protect your health?

Getting involved in the fight against factory farming couldn’t be easier. Simply sign up to receive email updates from Compassion in World Farming to hear about urgent campaign actions and other ways you can help end cruelty to farm animals.

Our sources

  1. Journal of Animal Science (2008), Effects of Conventional and Grass-feeding Systems on the Nutrient Composition of Beef
  2. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy (2002), The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
  3. Compassion in World Farming (2012), The Nutritional Benefits of Higher Welfare Animal Products
  4. WCRF (2011), Colorectal Cancer Report 2010 Summary
  5. Veterinary Record (2010), Investigation of Risk Factors for Salmonella on Commercial Egg-laying Farms in Great Britain, 2004-2005
  6. Pew Commission, 2008. Putting Meat on the Table
  7. EHP (2009), Swine CAFOs & Novel H1N1 Flu: Separating Facts from Fears
  8. Pew Commission, 2008. Putting Meat on the Table
  9. Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics (2011), Case Study of a Health Crisis: How Human Health is Under Threat From Over-use of Antibiotics in Intensive Livestock Farming
  10. WHO (2011), Antimicrobial Resistance
  11. USFDA (2009), Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals
  12. USFDA (2009), Sales of Antibacterial Drugs in Kilograms
  13. EWG (2011), Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health
  14. NRDC (2001), Cesspools of Shame
  15. Worldwatch Institute (2011), Global Meat Production and Consumption Continue to Rise
  16. USFDA (2010), The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals

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