Breaking Report Examines Animal Agriculture’s Impact on Billions of People

Mercy For Animals just released its first-ever public health report! The report examines how industrial animal agriculture impacts the health and welfare of billions of people worldwide.

The forward—written by Dr. María Neira, director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Health at the World Health Organization—states:

Agriculture, particularly clearing of land to rear livestock, contributes about one fourth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and land use change is the single biggest environmental driver of new disease outbreaks. There is a need for a rapid transition to healthy, nutritious and sustainable diets.

The comprehensive 50-page report details the most pressing threats animal agriculture poses to people, communities, and sustainability. Here are some of the key topics explored in the report.

1. Pandemic Disease Risk

Zoonoses (singular zoonosis) are infectious diseases that can jump from a nonhuman animal to a human. The report explains how factory farms provide conditions ripe for viruses to mutate, jump from animals to people, and create the next pandemic. It also details many examples of this, including coronaviruses, avian influenza viruses, and swine influenza.

The report also connects zoonotic diseases with habitat destruction and deforestation. Clearing forests for grazing land or industrial farms brings farmed animals and wildlife closer together. This increases the risk of disease transmission between them and, ultimately, to people.

2. Antibiotic Resistance

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance—the ability of bacteria to survive drugs designed to kill them—is one of the greatest global public health challenges of our time. The Mercy For Animals report explains that animal agriculture is a leading contributor to antibiotic overuse.

In some countries, a staggering 80 percent of medically important antibiotics are used in animal agriculture. The drugs are given to cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and fish to increase growth rates and help the animals survive horribly crowded, filthy living conditions. This leads to an increase in superbugs, putting humans at further risk.

3. Foodborne Illness

Each year, at least 600 million people around the world get sick from eating contaminated food. Over 400,000 of them die. The report explains how the majority of these illnesses stem from eating animal products. When farmed animals live in overcrowded, filthy conditions, illness-causing bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli—which are naturally present in the intestines of animals—thrive and spread and can contaminate the animal products people consume.

Animal agriculture is also responsible for bacterial contamination of plant foods through factory farm runoff. This often happens when feces-contaminated water and sludge are used to fertilize crops meant for human consumption.

4. Worker Health and Safety

The report details some of the ways the animal agriculture industry exploits farm and slaughterhouse workers. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, animal agriculture is one of the country’s most dangerous industries. Workers risk a wide range of hazards, including puncture wounds, amputations, severe burns, and exposure to toxic substances. Killing thousands of animals per day can also cause psychological issues, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety.

Most of the slaughterhouse workers in the United States are people of color who come from low-income communities without many job prospects. Often, they are undocumented immigrants with little or no access to legal help or medical care.

5. Health Impacts for Rural Communities

Each year in the United States, animal agriculture produces between 335 million and two billion tons of animal waste. Unlike human waste, farmed animal waste is not treated to remove harmful substances and pathogens. Instead, it is often stored in giant earthen pits and sprayed onto surrounding land. This contaminates the air, water, and soil, causing problems for neighboring communities, which are often low-income communities of color.

People residing in these communities suffer disproportionately from health problems like asthma, eye irritation, nausea, headaches, and even mental illness.

6. Diet-Related Chronic Diseases

Diets high in animal products have been associated with some of the deadliest chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. In contrast, the report references a number of studies showing the health benefits of plant-based eating. According to one study, vegans have a 75 percent lower chance of developing hypertension, and vegetarians have a 68 percent lower chance of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Reducing consumption of animal products—and ultimately, the number of factory farms—will alleviate many of these public health issues and create a better future for animals, people, and the planet. Click here to read the full report, and download our free veg starter guide for plant-based recipes, tips, and more.