May 29, 2013

Intensification of modern farming can result in infection from animal to human

The intensification of modern farming is an increasing hazard for human health.  This is the stark message of a new 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 bacteria Campylobacter, Salmonella and E coli all cause serious disease in people, and can even be fatal. Intensive farming practices are increasing the risk of these bacteria in our food, as stressed animals become more susceptible to infection. 

Levels of 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.

The US has around 73,000 human cases a year, compared to fewer than 1,000 in England and Wales, a significant difference even when the population discrepancy is taken into account.

Will Harris, the owner of White Oak Pastures, in Georgia, US spoke to WSPA about how he rears cattle in an environmentally sustainable and humane way; putting animal welfare high on the agenda:

“At White Oak Pastures, our animals live on pasture-land their entire lives, are provided with ample sources of shade and water, and are able to perform important natural behaviours. Also, the integration of different production stages eliminates the need to transport animals to slaughter, reducing poor welfare associated with those journeys."
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