The Devastating Health Impacts of Industrial Livestock Systems

Apr 7, 2022 | 0 comments

A new report, released today, World Health Day, by World Animal Protection and Tasting the Future, lays bare the most damaging human health impacts linked to industrial livestock, and how these will only get worse as the demand for cheap meat  from factory farms continues to grow in all corners of the world. The Hidden Health Impacts of Industrial Livestock Systems: Transforming Livestock Systems for Better Human, Animal and Planetary Health’ exposes how governments around the world are turning a blind eye to the public health toll of industrial livestock systems.

This report unveils the true hidden health impacts and costs of industrial livestock systems, which damage our health through multiple and interconnected pathways of impact. They make us ill, drive climate change and biodiversity loss, and cause suffering to billions of farmed animals each year. On the surface, meat, fish, and dairy products produced using factory farming systems may appear cheap but the fact is they cost trillions of dollars in poor health and ecological damage annually – these true ‘external costs’ are being picked up by taxpayers, citizens, rural communities, smallholder farmers, fishers, pastoralists, future generations, and other disadvantaged groups. This report highlights how industrial livestock systems make us sick highlighting five pathways of impact:

  1. Malnutrition and obesity: Factory farming systems have displaced local and sustainable food production. Land is used to plant crops to feed factory farmed animals, not people, undermining nutrition, and food security. At the same time, high volumes of cheap meat produced out of factory farms is equating to excessive meat consumption – one of the four leading risk factors for chronic illness.
  2. Superbugs and diseases: 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.

3. Foodborne illnesses: Cruel factory farming induces immense stress in animals, leaving them prone to bacteria or parasites that can cause foodborne illness in people, 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 in USD each year in lost productivity and medical expenses.

4. Illnesses from environmental contamination: Factory farming produces large amounts of animal waste that pollutes our air with roughly 400 different harmful gases. Heavy metals like zinc are added to factory farmed animals’ diets and are excreted, contaminating waterways. This heavy metal contamination of food causes one million illnesses each year.

5. Physical and mental impacts for workers – Within factory farming systems, physical and mental health impacts suffered by workers include poor working conditions in meat slaughtering, processing, and packaging facilities, physical injury and psychosocial and mental health issues.

The report identifies nine systemic shifts which will be needed to deliver the biggest health gains for our population. Some of those include re-orientating subsidies away from factory farming towards regenerative and agroecological farming practices, improving affordability of plant-based foods, and providing transition support for farmers no longer wishing to engage in factory farming.

To achieve the paradigm shift required, the report outlines ten recommendations for government action. In summary these include the need to:

  1. Recognize the inter-connected public health and planetary impacts of industrialized farming systems and commit to stopping the support for factory farms.
  2. Ensure fiscal policies, including taxation and social policy and programs, research, and infrastructure investments, align to reflect the true health, sustainability, and animal welfare costs of livestock production systems.
  3. Establish national plans to support a just transition away from industrialized livestock production towards agroecological systems that produce sustainable plant-based foods and fewer farmed animals in high welfare environments.
  4. Ensure integrated, participatory, transparent, and rights-based approaches to governance and policymaking at all levels across the livestock system.
  5. Introduce trade policy incentives that facilitate shorter livestock derived food (LDF) value chains and that support agroecological, regenerative and pastoral LDFs.
  6. Meet the Farms Initiative Responsible Minimum Standards (FARMS) animal welfare requirements for production or procurement as a minimum.
  7. End subsidies and policy support for unhealthy and unjust industrial livestock systems and redirect these to support regenerative, agroecological and pastoralist systems that deliver better human, animal, and planetary health outcomes.
  8. Commit to a moratorium on factory farming within National Climate actions plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)) in recognition of factory farming’s climate impacts.
  9. Promote humane, healthy, and sustainable diets, including those that support an average global reduction in meat and dairy consumption and production of 50% by 2040, through the provision of healthy eating advice and other financial incentives.
  10. Develop national One Health, One Welfare action plans and national antimicrobial resistance (AMR) plans that recognize the health impacts of industrialized livestock and restrict its growth.

This report makes it clear that industrial livestock systems make us ill, damage our planet and cause suffering to billions of farmed animals each year. Governments need to act now – to stop support for factory farms, reorientating agricultural subsidies in support of agroecological regenerative and pastoral livestock systems, committing to global reductions in average meat production and consumption, and tackle the unbridled power and dominance of the few multinational corporations. Within the decade for action, now is the time for governments to deliver better health and wellbeing outcomes for people, planet, and animals

For more information and to download the report click on the link here.

Further information can also be found on the World Animal Protection Website here.

33290cookie-checkThe Devastating Health Impacts of Industrial Livestock Systems

Written By Tasting the Future

Mark Driscoll is a freelance sustainable food systems consultant focussing on food systems transformation initiatives. He works with businesses, funders and civil society organisations on a range of food systems projects. This includes research work, strategy & policy development, project management and media work. He is a passionate advocate and champion of food systems transformation which gives citizens access to healthy and nutritious foods within environmental limits.

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