New Report on Zoonotic Diseases Highlights Dire Consequences of Intensive Farming Practices on the Health of Animals and People

May 29, 2013, 09:00 ET from World Society for the Protection of Animals

NEW YORK, May 29, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The intensification of modern farming is an increasing hazard for human health.  That is the stark message of a new report released today by Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

The report, Zoonotic Diseases, Human Health and Farm Animal Welfare, warns that the increasing tendency to rear animals in confined spaces, our growing consumption of animals reared in unsafe systems, and the increased industrialization of farming is putting human health at risk.

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.

The report finds the risk of swine and bird flu pandemics could be increased by intensive pig and poultry farms. These farms are often in the same area, having concentrated numbers of confined animals, potentially enhancing the risk of avian influenza transferring to pigs. The reassortment of the virus can lead to new strains that are infectious to humans. Additionally, the transporting of animals over long distances also increases the risk of spread and mixing of virus strains from animals to each other.  

Levels of Enterohaemorrhagic E.Coli (EHEC) in the UK and the US are very different, which is likely due to the intensive farming of beef cattle in the US. Rather than rearing cattle on pasture, which is common in the UK, cattle 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 EHEC 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.

The report also reaffirms that eggs from hens in cages are likely to have a higher risk of Salmonella in comparison to eggs from hens in cage-free systems, particularly in countries where hens are not routinely vaccinated against the bacteria, such as the US.  As 95 percent of eggs in the US come from caged systems, this is a major risk for consumer health.

Dil Peeling, Director of Campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, said: "Our new report makes for worrying reading.  We need to act to defuse this human health time bomb before it's too late.

"Animals need, and deserve, to be in higher welfare systems. This report suggests that, as well as being better for animals, higher welfare systems mean less of a disease risk for us.  The risks posed by intensive farming are real and need to be addressed for our health and the health of our children."

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 report finds that Governments, Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs) and the food production industry must work together to implement the following recommendations:  reduction of antibiotics for healthy animals; development of food supply chains that minimize animal stress; limiting transport and ensuring humane slaughter of animals on or near the farm where they were raised; and support for the development of higher welfare livestock herds.

World Society for the Protection of Animals
At the World Society for the Protection of Animals, we have worked to expose animal cruelty and prevent animal suffering for more than 30 years. Working with individuals, organisations and governments across the globe, our campaigns range from  putting animals at the heart of farming to protecting animals in disasters. Consultative status with the United Nations means we have a unique international platform to prove that the lives of animals are inextricably linked to our own, and now more than ever is the time to stop their suffering.  For more information, visit

Compassion in World Farming
Compassion in World Farming was founded over 40 years ago in 1967 by a British farmer who became horrified by the development of intensive factory farming. Today we campaign peacefully to end all cruel factory farming practices. We believe that the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet deserves a focused, specialised approach – so we only work on farm animal welfare.

SOURCE World Society for the Protection of Animals