Mark Driscoll is a sustainable food systems consultant working to transform our food systems so they are sustainable, healthy and fair for all.
A new report, released today on World Health Day, by World Animal Protection and Tasting the Future, has laid bare the most damaging human health impacts linked to factory farming, and how these will only get worse as the demand for cheap meat continues to grow in all corners of the world. ‘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 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 gasses. 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 and 10 recommendations for policy makers that will be required to transform our livestock systems including the need for ‘less but better’ meat sourced from regenerative and agroecological systems.
Shifting to healthy and sustainable diets will deliver benefits for the health and well-being of people, planet, and animals. Supermarkets have a major role to play in supporting this transition by selling less but better meat and instead promoting more veg and healthy plant proteins. Eating Better’s Sourcing Better guide sets out a pathway to ‘better’ standards across key impact areas including animal welfare, GHG emissions, land use and biodiversity.
For more information download The Hidden Health Impacts of Industrial Livestock Systems.