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Daily News Blog

01
May

Experts Warn Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) Could Lead to the Next Pandemic

(Beyond Pesticides, May 1, 2020) As the globe settles in for a long summer of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, experts warn that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), more commonly referred to as “factory farms,” are setting the table for the next pandemic. Crowded conditions and prophylactic use of antibiotics, scientists say, are creating an environment ripe for viruses and bacteria to evolve and jump from animal to human populations. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said back in 2013, “Livestock health is the weakest link in our global health chain.” Alternatively, organic principles offer an existing federal guideline for ecologically and environmentally viable conditions for agriculture.

Michael Greger, M.D., Ph.D., author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, explains, “When we overcrowd animals by the thousands, in cramped football-field-size sheds, to lie beak to beak or snout to snout, and there’s stress crippling their immune systems, and there’s ammonia from the decomposing waste burning their lungs, and there’s a lack of fresh air and sunlight — put all these factors together and you have a perfect-storm environment for the emergence and spread of disease.” Dr. Greger notes that the spread of industrialization, or “Tysonization,” of poultry production in Asia has been tied to the explosion of novel bird flu viruses beginning in the 1990’s.

Viruses and bacteria proliferating in the food system have worried epidemiologists for years. “When I was writing my book, I asked my sources what keeps them awake at night. They usually had two answers: virulent avian influenza and highly drug-resistant forms of bacterial pathogens,” Sonia Shah, author of Pandemic (2017), told Vox. “Both those things are driven by the crowding in factory farms. These are ticking time bombs.”

Pathogens can quickly rip through a barn of crowded animals, so farms give livestock low doses of antibiotics to preemptively suppress bacteria (the subtherapeutic administration of antibiotics also causes animals to gain weight more quickly). In the tight and ripe conditions of a CAFO, an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria is likely to evolve under the selective pressure of the given medicine. “We have abundant evidence documenting the fact that when you put animals in crowded, unsanitary conditions and use low-dose antibiotics for disease prevention, you set up a perfect incubator for spontaneous mutations in the DNA of the bacteria,” Robert Lawrence, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of environmental health at John Hopkins University, told Vox. “With more spontaneous mutations, the odds increase that one of those mutations will provide resistance to the antibiotic that’s present in the environment.” The presence of the antibiotic provides strong selection pressure favoring the mutation, should it arise.

The same antibiotics given to animals are used by humans to fight infections. Should an especially infectious and resistant bacteria pop up and pass to humans, doctors might not have an appropriate toolkit to deal with it. As we are experiencing with coronavirus, social distancing would be the means of preventing the spread.

Lax regulatory standards for animal agriculture in the U.S. make it difficult for federal inspectors to get onto farms and investigate disease outbreaks. Lance Price, Ph.D., explained to 60 Minutes, “You’ve got these big, in some cases, multinational companies, that are messing with our food safety system. But they hide behind this image of an American farmer. ‘Why can’t we regulate the use of antibiotics on the farm?’ ‘Oh, we’ve gotta protect the American farmer. That would be encroachment by the government.’ ‘Why can’t we test these animals on the farm to see if they’re carrying dangerous pathogens?’ ‘Oh, that would hurt the farmer. We gotta protect the guy in the overalls.’ But this is not a guy in overalls. This is a guy in a suit with a Maserati, you know? I mean…these are big companies that we are protecting. And by protecting them, we’re hurting ourselves.”

While most Americans say they want more stringent oversight of large-scale livestock operations, little has been done to mitigate the issue in chemical-intensive agriculture. In contrast, USDA organic standards have prohibited the use of antibiotics since the 1990’s. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is guided by principles in the Organic Foods Production Act that prevent the harmful and unnecessary use of pharmaceuticals and provide humane, spacious living conditions for animals.

However, as consumers have bought into more stringent organic standards, the industry has grown and captured the eye of big agriculture. Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong and OrganicEye programs highlight the need to keep a close eye on regulation in this arena. Advocates note, for example, that consistent enforcement of the access to pasture rule, including identification of high risk dairy operations, such as those with more than 1,000 milking and dry cows, is needed to meet USDA’s Farm Bill and legislative principles priority to “Protect the integrity of the USDA organic certified seal and deliver efficient, effective oversight of organic production practices to ensure organic products meet consistent standards for all producers, domestic and foreign.”

Another critical issue within organic standards centers on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Production rule. Last year, in an attack on organic integrity, USDA decided to withdraw final organic animal welfare regulations that would have provided standardized and measurable criteria for managing the health and welfare of organic livestock and poultry. Beyond Pesticides reported then, “These increasing organic rollbacks, many of which threaten to break the backbone of organic, have inspired the creation of two organic-plus labels, complete with their own inspection and certification systems. Both the Real Organic Project and Regenerative Organic Certification plan to use USDA’s organic certification as the foundation of their labels and then add-on crucial organic provisions that have been revoked or not yet addressed by USDA.”

While the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout have the general public wishing for things to return to normal, advocates say it is crucial to recognize that “normal” is exactly what caused the multitude of crises we face right now. “Normal” means more pandemics in the future. The road to recovery needs to be organic. Keep track of Beyond Pesticides action on this topic with our action of the week and tell your U.S. Senator to cosponsor the Farm System Reform Act.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Vox

 

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One Response to “Experts Warn Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) Could Lead to the Next Pandemic”

  1. 1
    Diane Says:

    That’s one of the reasons I don’t eat any animal product!

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