Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Farm animal welfare and its relationship to human health - issue#2

Intensive production have negative impacts on human health. Change is possible, for example by following the criteria of the EU guidelines.

By Alan M. Goldberg Ph.D.

Professor of Toxicology Bloomberg School of Public Health
Principal, Global Food Ethics Johns Hopkins University

The impact of Industrial farm animal production on human health has been explored and unveiled over the last several years. Industrial (intensive) farm animal production results in several important effects in the human population that live near these facilities and/or eat the food that result.

At the community level, these industrial facilities degrade the environment and have negative impacts on the community that impact human health and decreases land values.

Antibiotic resistance, MRSA, is directly related to the non-therapeutic life time exposure to antibiotics that farm animals receive as growth promoters and for disease prevention. These diseases that are being prevented are the direct result of the intensity (industrial scale) that the animals are grown in.

Best estimates indicated that 80% of all antibiotic use is in farm animals.  Most importantly, this exposure is to non-therapeutic levels for the animals’ lifetime. The therapeutic use of antibiotics for the treatment of acute diseases over short periods of time is necessary - both medically and ethically.

Industrial farm animal production results in a very bleak picture of human health consequences. How can this outcome be changed? Changing the density of animals raised together should be a first step. A more powerful approach would be to incorporate as a minimum the 5 freedoms (access to clean and nutritious foods, freedom from distress, pain and fear, and the ability to express natural behaviors) or going much further and following the criteria of the EU welfare guidelines.

Another aspect, as my colleague Ellen Silbergeld suggests, is that Industrial farm animal production is truly an industry.  However, it is not regulated like other industries.  Waste, environmental impact, consumer oversight, and other process outcomes are not regulated.  Industrial agriculture, currently, has a big pass on regulation.

Current industrial farm animal production is inhumane and by most criteria cruel. Meeting animal welfare standards, the 5 freedoms or the more comprehensive welfare quality guidelines, will decrease environmental contamination, address issues of social justice, and greatly decrease the negative human health effects of current industrial farm animal production.