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News Article

Intensive farming: consequences for human health and animal welfare


Report examines some of the most common diseases of farm animals that can passed to humans.

The intensification of modern farming is an increasing hazard for human health concludes a report released by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

The report, Zoonotic Diseases, Human Health and Farm Animal Welfare, warns that rearing animals in confined spaces, using breeds and intensive management methods to increase production, is merely to satisfy the world’s growing appetite for meat, and is putting human health at risk.

WSPA Chief Scientific Advisor, Michael Appleby said, “Stress is bad for both animals and humans. It increases susceptibility to infection and disease, with potentially serious effects. To protect both animal and human health, managing animals in ways that ensure their welfare must be a priority.”

The CIWF/WSPA report, based on longer reports written by experts, examines some of the most common food poisoning bacteria, as well as avian and swine influenza; assessing the causes and risks to human health and farm animals.

Campylobacter, Salmonella and Escherichia coli all cause serious disease in people. Intensive farming practices are increasing the risk of these bacteria in our food, as stressed animals become more susceptible to infection, the report suggests. For example, the report notes that levels of Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) in the UK and the US are very different. Rather than rearing beef cattle on pasture, which is common in the UK, cattle in the US are fed grain in feedlots increasing E. coli in the gut of cattle, which can contaminate meat at slaughter. Studies of beef cattle in the US indicate E. coli may be present in the intestines or on the hides of 20-28% of cattle at slaughter and in 43% of meat samples after processing. Levels in the UK are lower, with only 4.7% of cattle intestine samples testing positive. 

Campylobacter levels in chicken is a serious concern for human health and the application of biosecurity measures in higher welfare indoor systems, with lower stocking densities and slower-growing birds may be successful in reducing the risk, the report states. “Further research is urgently needed to clarify the implications of animal breeds for the risks associated with Campylobacter, and to avoid solutions being put forward that have negative consequences for human health as well as animal welfare.”

With regard to avian and swine influenza, the report concludes that the explosion in farm animal numbers, along with the geographical concentration of large-scale poultry and pig production and the transport of animals over long distances, facilitates the emergence of new strains of viruses that can give rise to human pandemics.

The report outlines important tools to battle against zoonotic diseases, including: using animal breeds, diets and management conditions that minimise stress and optimise animal welfare and immunity; limiting transport times; surveillance, vaccination programmes and increased food hygiene procedures.

To read WSPA reports see:
Farm animal welfare and food security (WSPA)

Article details

  • Date
  • 30 May 2013
  • Source
  • WSPA
  • Subject(s)
  • Food Animals
  • Poultry