|Swine Flu, Bird Flu and BSE: Three Legacies of Factory Farming|
|Friday, 29 March 2013 00:00 | Written by Dawn Marshallsay | Article|
The new strain of bird flu now spreading in China has raised renewed concerns about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) AKA factory farms. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "About 75% of the new diseases that have affected humans over the past 10 years have been caused by pathogens originating from an animal or from products of animal origin."
Swine flu, bird flu and BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, widely known as mad-cow disease) are the most well-known plagues caused by factory farming and poor animal welfare—there are others. And because illnesses spread quickly between animals reared in tight spaces on cannibalistic diets, it’s only a matter of time before other such viruses mutate into strains that can infect humans working on or living near factory farms—and then spread to the rest of us.
Swine flu, or influenza A (H1N1), is thought to have started with a pig contracting a mixture of bird and human flu, which then spread to a human. Early signs in humans include fever, headaches and diarrhea.
It’s not difficult for an intensively farmed pig to catch the flu. Pregnant sows are chained into single stalls without bedding or space to move around. Known as sow stalls in Europe and gestation crates in America, such stalls will be banned in the EU after four weeks of pregnancy beginning in January 2013, and are already illegal in Sweden, the UK and Florida, Arizona and California in the US.
Disease spreads quickly when thousands of birds are packed into a warm, dusty environment, standing on layers of excrement and feathers. The genetic uniformity of breeds used in intensive farming, chosen for their fast growth and high volume of meat, also lowers the chance of natural immunity.
While many countries have periodically ordered their free-range poultry indoors to prevent contact with wild birds, the spread of H5N1 from China to Europe, Africa and the Middle East followed major road and rail routes rather than the migration patterns of wild birds.
The increase in numbers of HPAIs over the last decade also coincides with the 300% increase in worldwide poultry production over the last two decades, and an increase of almost 900% in China since 1980.
BSE causes cows’ brains to waste away, and spreads when they are fed bovine tissues contaminated with BSE. Humans who eat infected beef develop the human variant, CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), which lies dormant for many years before producing symptoms similar to dementia, and eventually death.
A new form called variant CJD (vCJD), discovered in the UK in March 1996, has been disproportionately affecting younger patients (a median age of 29 instead of 65). From October 1996 to November 2002, 129 cases of vCJD were reported in the UK, six in France and one each in Canada, Ireland, Italy and the US.
Growing and buying locally reared food reduces the need for animals to travel, which spreads diseases and increases carbon emissions. It also decreases demand for large-scale food production. Food-localisation initiatives include the international Slow Food Movement and the 100-Mile Diet.
Miniature cattle are also helping to minimize pollution and animal waste. Farmers say the cows eat about half as much as a full-sized animal, yet produce up to 75% of the rib-eyes and fillets, according to The Times. The International Miniature Breeds Registry estimates there are now 20,000 mini-cows in the US, compared to 5,000 a decade ago.
How we treat our feed animals is not only a moral issue.The antibiotics, steroids and other substances we administer to them; the food—including their diseased brothers—we serve them; and the illnesses they contract, are bound to pass onto humans, if not directly through our stomachs, then by way of the air, land and water we share,.Is it worth sacrificing our own health, the animals’ wellbeing and the environment for the sake of marginally increased business profits? If you think not, buying from local, family-owned, free-range and organic farms is an option you should seriously consider.
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