By Dr. Mercola
The first large-scale animal factories appeared in the early 1970s,1 and while these initial confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) were for egg laying hens, pork and beef producers soon followed suit.
It's a corporate-controlled system characterized by large-scale, centralized, low profit-margin production, processing, and distribution systems, built around efficiency — producing more for less.
By 1980, chicken, pig, beef, and dairy CAFOs were firmly established, and over the following decade, processed fast food became the norm, courtesy of abundant inexpensive meats.
We are now experiencing the consequences of manufacturing animals on factory farms rather than raising them properly. Antibiotic-resistant disease is one serious consequence that now claims the lives of about 23,000 Americans every year.
Highly Contagious MRSA Has Jumped Species
The featured video discusses the emergence of livestock associated methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (LA-MRSA) in babies, apparently introduced via the umbilical cord during gestation, and the potential hazard of contaminated meats.
As reported by The Guardian:2
"[MRSA] has been associated with poor hygiene in hospitals, but the main factor behind the spread of MRSA has been the over-prescription of antibiotics...
CC398, a new variant of MRSA, emerged in animals and is found in intensively farmed animals (primarily pigs, but also cows and chickens), from where it can be transmitted to humans.
While government attempts to limit MRSA infections in hospitals have met with some success, there has been little comparable effort in combating MRSA infections among livestock."
LA-MRSA is highly contagious, and can be contracted by touching a contaminated animal. Hence pig farmers are particularly at risk, and they can then carry it and spread it to others.
LA-MRSA can also be contracted by handling raw contaminated meat. In Denmark, a major producer of pork in Europe, 12,000 people have contracted LA-MRSA. Five LA-MRSA related deaths have been recorded.
During the record-breaking month of August, 2014, 127 people contracted LA-MRSA infection, leading to broad news coverage. Seventy percent of Danish pig farms tested for MRSA CC398 were found to be infected, and one in five pork products tested were found to be contaminated with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Could Worldwide MRSA Epidemic From CAFO Meat Be Just Around the Corner?
According to a study led by an international team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, people who live near livestock are at increased risk of acquiring MRSA.3 Another study4 looking at the link between CAFOs and MRSA in Pennsylvania concluded that:
"Proximity to swine manure application to crop fields and livestock operations each was associated with MRSA... These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production."
In Denmark, an estimated 60-70 percent of pig farmers carry the infection, and experts are warning that LA-MRSA in Denmark is an out-of-control epidemic. Despite such warning signs, the UK and many other countries do not test farms and pork products for MRSA, as the threat is downplayed as being minimal.
In a recent investigation by The Guardian, out of 100 pork samples purchased in British grocery stores, nine tested positive for MRSA. Eight of them originated in Denmark, and one came from Ireland.
Considering the fact that food is exported between nations across the globe, the health risks associated with CAFO foods are by no means localized.
US Swine Population Affected by Novel Pig Virus
MRSA isn't the only hazard swine CAFOs have to contend with. Between 2013 and 2014, nearly 10 percent of the entire swine population in the US was wiped out by Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv)5 — a highly lethal virus traced back to pig's blood used in piglet feed.6
Reports indicate the American swine industry has recovered as of June this year,7 but this outbreak, which spread to 30 states,8 areas of Canada, and Mexico, is yet another example of the inherent dangers of the factory farm model.
It specifically illustrates why the "cannibal" solution, i.e. feeding animal parts back to the same species of animal is such a bad idea.
Mad Cow is another disease spread by the cannibal feeding model, and some researchers are now proposing some cases of Alzheimer's may be a slow-progressing human form of Mad Cow disease.
The PED virus can be transmitted in a number of different ways, including from pig to pig; via contact with pig manure; and via contaminated trucks and other equipment, in the case of the disease spreading from one farm to another.
As noted by Dr. Dick Hesse in the following video, the PED virus has traditionally been a relatively mild pathogen. Only recently did it suddenly evolve into a far more aggressive version — with a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent among affected animals.9
So we now see that, besides antibiotic-overuse, which poses a direct threat to human health, CAFOs also promote severe animal diseases that simply would not occur in the organic model, through the wholly unnatural diets used in the CAFO setting.
Avian Flu Outbreak among Chickens — What This Disaster Can Tell Us About Our Food Production
This year, we've also seen the largest outbreak of avian flu in US history, resulting in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin declaring states of emergency. More than 40 countries also imposed partial or total bans on US poultry.
According to a recent report, nearly 50 million birds were killed by the outbreak — 31.5 million of them in Iowa alone. Nearly eight million turkeys were also killed,10 and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently warned there may be a shortage of fresh Thanksgiving turkeys this year.11
According to Fortune Magazine:12 "The cost of dead poultry stands at $191 million; the total economic damage of the outbreak in Iowa alone is estimated at $957 million."
While there are safeguards in place to contain deadly disease outbreaks from spreading, those strategies apparently failed as the influenza managed to spread across 14 states in five months. This is one of the most troubling aspects of CAFOs, and it clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of the system.
It's also a demonstration of the inevitable — you simply cannot cram animals together in unsanitary living quarters and feed them an unnatural diet and depend on drugs to keep them healthy. Disease is inevitable in the CAFO model, as it actively promotes it.
Adding insult to injury, US taxpayers bailed out and paid for all of these diseased birds that were destroyed, rather than making the CAFO industry take the loss and accept the fact that their confined operations are the cause of these outbreaks. Unless the system is changed, more of these kinds of deadly outbreaks are to be expected, and it may just be a matter of time before one of them takes its toll in the human population...
Animal Diseases May Be Used as Biological Weapons, Experts Warn
Livestock acquired diseases may in fact become the next generation biowarfare, according to some health experts. This issue was recently brought to the fore when the World Health Organization (WHO) and national defense officers called for increased cooperation between nations to prevent the spread of animal diseases that could be used as biological weapons.13
According to said Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), "60 percent of human diseases come from animal agents and 80 percent of the agents that could be used for bio terrorism are of animal origin... So we are calling for further investment to be made at national level on bio security."
Last year a number of biosecurity breaches came to light, raising serious questions about "experts" ability to contain the lethal microorganisms kept in labs around the world. So while increasing cooperation between nations to tighten security around animal diseases capable of being turned into bioweapons is a good idea, I doubt it's possible to rule out security breaches altogether.
Not to mention the fact that should an animal disease jump species, as we're seeing with LA-MRSA, the CAFO model will virtually ensure that contaminated foods will spread the disease far and wide in a very short amount of time. We certainly do not need terrorists to create a devastating scenario! According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), animal manure is another way of transmission of animal diseases,14 and CAFO manure is used on farm fields — including some organic ones.
This is why non-animal foods, like vegetables, such as spinach, have caused outbreaks of foodborne disease. The fact that animal diseases — many of which are now developing antibiotic resistance — can spread via manure also raises concerns about CAFO runoff polluting waterways, as this effectively makes drinking water a potential route of exposure as well. It's also having devastating environmental effects.
CAFOs Are a MAJOR Source of Pollution
CAFOs create massive amounts of waste that pollutes lakes, rivers, and groundwater. In the town of Eileen by Lake Superior, where Reicks View Farms wants to build a massive hog farm, residents are concerned about what such a facility might do to the water quality. As reported by the Daily Press:15
"Lake Superior holds 10 percent of the world's fresh surface water and as such, any industry looking to set up in the Lake Superior Basin needs to be held to an extremely high level of scrutiny,' said FNF co-founder and Bayfield county citizen Mary Dougherty...
'The Wisconsin DNR, the main regulatory agency for CAFOs, lacks the staff and funding to protect our shared natural resources and as a result, Farms Not Factories was formed to address these threats and protect our great lakes way of life,' Dougherty said...
The proposed facility would house 26,000 hogs, making it the largest hog CAFO in Wisconsin and the first hog CAFO in the Lake Superior Basin. It also would produce nine million gallons of manure annually... 'To put that massive amount of manure into perspective, we're talking about the amount of raw sewage a city the size of La Crosse produces annually,' she said. That sewage will be injected untreated into clay soil eight miles from Lake Superior. 'The risk of runoff is real and can't be overstated."
In a 2014 letter16 to Kewaunee CARES, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future discuss some of the many hazards associated with CAFOs, writing in part:
"The Center engages in research, policy analysis, education, advocacy, and other activities guided by an ecologic perspective that diet, food production, the environment, and public health are interwoven elements of a single complex system. We recognize the fundamental importance of food animal production in these issues as they relate to the U.S. food system.
We are writing to present some of the concerns associated with the generation and management of manure from intensive livestock operations, particularly regarding the health of Wisconsin's rural citizens. These health and environmental concerns include:
- The spread of infectious disease, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to nearby communities.
- Groundwater and surface water pollution, and associated health and ecological impacts.
- Air pollution, odors, and associated health and social impacts.
... A growing body of evidence has implicated the generation and management of manure from intensive livestock operations in the spread of infectious disease (including antibiotic-resistant strains), introduction of microbial and chemical contaminants into ground and surface waters, impacts to air quality, and the wide range of adverse health, social, ecological, and economic outcomes that result from these events."
All Lakes in Southwest Minnesota Unfit for Fishing and Swimming, Due to Farm Runoff
The southwest of Minnesota offers a grim picture of this reality, as here there is not one lake that meets state water quality standards for fishing and swimming left.17 Ninety out of 93 streams in this area are also too polluted for such activities. Bacteria and nitrates are the primary culprits — both of which have agricultural origins. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), addressing the water quality will require limiting runoff and drainage from farms, and reducing pollutants associated with modern farming practices.
Similarly, research18 published in 2013 showed that well water in northeastern Wisconsin contains nitrate, fecal bacteria, and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The fact that CAFOs are not taking their impact on environmental and human health seriously enough is evidenced by the growing number of lawsuits filed against CAFOs over the hazardous pollution they generate and allow to disperse into the environment.
Most recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation filed a lawsuit against water protection officials in Virginia, demanding CAFO livestock be kept safely out of waterways that drain into the Chesapeake Bay, where a multibillion-dollar water restoration project is underway. According to a local news source:19
"The lawsuit argues that the [Virginia Department of Environmental Quality] and the [State Water Control Board] erred in March 2014 when they approved a new 10-year pollution abatement permit governing large dairy, cattle, pig and poultry farms. The suit states that water protection officials declined to require Virginia's largest livestock operations to fence off streams to protect them from wandering farm animals.
They instead backed "buffer zones" where manure cannot be applied to fields. The foundation maintains that isn't enough and livestock should not have unfettered access to rivers and streams. 'We believe Virginia's Constitution and state law require the board to protect state waters for all of its citizens,' Jon Mueller, the Bay Foundation's vice president of litigation, said..."
Rethink Your Shopping Habits to Protect Your Family's Health
I believe the movement toward sustainable food and ethical meat is very important, both in terms of human health and animal welfare. Organic, grass-fed, and finished meat that is humanely raised and butchered is really about the only type of meat that is healthy to eat.
By purchasing your meat from smaller farms that raise their animals in a humane fashion, according to organic principles, you're promoting the proliferation of such farms, which in the end will benefit everyone, including all the animals. The organic industry also tends to favor far more humane butchering practices, which is another important part of "ethical meat." The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods — including organic grass-fed and finished meats — in your local area:
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.
- Eat Local Grown -- An international listing for wholesome local food searchable by city and zip code. There are categories for farms, farmers markets, restaurants, grocery stores, co-ops, and even artisans like butchers and cheese makers.
Also, when looking for antibiotic-free meat, it's best to familiarize yourself with the various labels20 currently in use, as some are useful, while others can be downright deceptive:
100% USDA Organic label offers excellent assurance that antibiotics have not been used at any stage of production. "No antibiotics administered" and similar labels also offer high assurance that antibiotics have not been used, especially if accompanied by a "USDA process Verified" shield. "Grass-fed" label coupled with USDA Organic label means no antibiotics have been used, but if the "grass-fed" label appears alone, antibiotics may have been given. "American Grass-fed" and "Food Alliance Grass-fed" labels indicate that in addition to having been raised on grass, the animal in question received no antibiotics. The following three labels: "Antibiotic-free," "No antibiotic residues," and "No antibiotic growth promotants," have not been approved by the USDA and may be misleading if not outright fraudulent. "Natural" or "All-Natural" is completely meaningless and has no bearing on whether or not the animal was raised according to organic principles. "Natural" meat and poultry products can by law receive antibiotics, hormones, and genetically engineered grains, and can be raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).