Written Evidence submitted by Humane Being (FS0062)

Who we are and our expertise

Humane Being is an NGO established in 2018 which campaigns on issues that impact the planet, animals and people. I write as Founding Director on behalf of the organisation. Our messaging is very closely aligned to the One Health messaging i.e. the interconnection of Human Health to Animal Health to Environmental Health.

We have spent two years extensively researching the issues linked to intensive animal agriculture and run a campaign to “Scrap Factory Farming” which focuses on addressing these issues through system and individual change.

There is no doubt that factory farming poses serious health risks to humans and the environment but also to the very core of global and national food security.

The main issues related to intensive animal agriculture

Please note reference sources cited in this document are all accessible via the hyperlinks. Wherever possible we have quoted, rather than paraphrased, research.

 

  1. Intensive farm conditions lead to an increased disease susceptibility in the animals and can result in mass culling programmes, as seen with Avian flu. This can create food shortages of animal based food and wastage as crops are used to feed animals that cannot be used to feed humans.

 

  1. The overuse of antibiotics to control on farm disease in animals, is contributing to increasing deaths from infections resistant to antibiotics that we currently rely on. Antibiotic resistance is already killing 3,500 people per day. In addition there is increasing evidence of humans acquiring resistant pathogens from animal food sources.

 

  1. The disease risk to humans via zoonotic transmission

 

  1. Points 1- 3 are caused by confining thousands of genetically similar sentient beings in unhygienic conditions and them being genetically manipulated for yield rather than health, stressed, immuno- compromised and painfully mutilated without anaesthetic or pain relief.

 

  1. The disease risk to humans directly in the form of cancer, type II diabetes and obesity

 

  1. The environmental damage – for example river pollution, mass deforestation to clear land for animal feed, extensive land use for crops to feed animals. This is a very inefficient use of land and as the climate crisis and soil exploitation issues result in ever increasing crop failures the lack of viable crop land will result in global food insecurity challenges

 

  1. The climate crisis – the emissions attributed to animal agriculture are now widely documented and recognised. However, what is less frequently mentioned is how the climate crisis will impact on food yield. The Government's Food Security Report 2021 identified the climate crisis as one of the biggest threats to food security: Climate change and emissions pose significant risks to production and food security.

 

  1. The disease risk to humans in the form of Cancer, Type II diabetes

 

  1. Subsidies and relief payments that buoy up the intensive agriculture industries, rather than healthy food production systems

 

  1. The war in Ukraine (the breadbasket of the world) has had huge impact upon the prices of feed, jeopardising food supplies as well as food crops for animals.

 

The issues linked to intensive animal agriculture are all interconnected and are global problems that must be addressed locally. If the UK Government takes the lead, it is inevitable other countries will follow suit so local action can create global improvements.

For the purpose of the consultation we will restrict our answers to the issues that relate to food security and our own expertise.


Avian flu outbreaks and the impact on food supply

Rather worryingly 70% of the birds on the planet are farmed birds, mostly found in factory farms.

Avian flu outbreaks reported in UK birds in the last 12 months have been at an all-time high. We have collated information here that shows the outbreak and cull data. Outbreaks have continued long after the season normally ends and despite claims of high biosecurity and surveillance in the UK, the picture of geographical distribution shows a different picture.

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The large scale culling that follows an outbreak can lead to food shortage and price hikes as exemplified by the supply of eggs in the USA and covered in detail in this USDA report.

As we continue to build intensive farms, so we increase the likelihood of disease outbreaks, affecting the animals, supply chain and posing risk to human health.

Zoonotic diseases – COVID 19 – risk of avian flu and the link to food security

What is a zoonotic disease

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines zoonoses as “diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans. A zoonotic agent may be a bacterium, a virus, a fungus or other communicable disease agent.”

The list of zoonotic diseases found in the UK is extensive and Covid-19 is just one example.

Extract from UK Biological Security Strategy 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How zoonotic disease can affect food supply.

We only have to look at BSE or salmonella found in eggs and raw chicken to show the potential impact of comparatively small zoonotic outbreaks on animal food product supply nationally and through exports.

A Lancet report states that “The burden of individual animal diseases, such as foot and mouth disease,5 and of multiple diseases in geographical regions such the UK are estimated to be high.67  Estimates range from a 20% reduction in the global production of animal-source food8  to animal production losses of up to 50% in developing countries.9 

The impact of a pandemic

The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published Part One of England’s National Food Strategy Independent Review in July 2020, which notes the intersectionality of COVID-19, climate change and trade. It reflects upon how the COVID-19 pandemic raised attention to food security issues. The Government reported that during the first lockdown, the food supply chain responded well to an unprecedented 50% surge in demand during an episode of panic buying.

Future pandemics may have more serious repercussions for food security in the UK and a pandemic is scientifically likely to come from intensively farmed animal origins as we will show. Farm workers and slaughter house workers are at particular risk of contracting a zoonotic disease in this scenario, creating food supply issues in addition to the wider manifestations  of contracting and spreading a potentially fatal disease.

The likely cause of the next pandemic

Scientists were surprised that the last pandemic was caused by Covid-19 rather than zoonotic influenza from pigs or poultry.

 

 

 

*In the last century, influenza pandemics have all come from birds or pigs. Source

How factory farms create pandemic risk

 

We report further on the death tolls, dates, origins and impacts of the outbreak in humans in our research summary but will not cite that here as the aim is to highlight the risk of further pandemics and potential threat to food security that poses.

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“Governments are justified in restricting or even eliminating the intensive production of animals in order to mitigate the risk of future zoonotic pandemics and their associated harms and costs.”

A Public Health Ethics Case for Mitigating Zoonotic Disease Risk in Food Production.


Antibiotic useand food supply chain impacts

The general problem

In 2022 A lancet report showed that 1·27 million deaths were directly attributable to bacterial AMR in 2019 (3480 deaths/ day) .

By 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty. More and more common diseases, including respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, and urinary tract infections, are untreatable; lifesaving medical procedures are becoming much riskier, and our food systems are increasingly precarious.”  Source 1 and source 2

 

The World Health Organisation says "Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today." And “Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.”

Globally over 70% of antibiotics are used on farms, 30% in the UK, most prevalently on factory farms where conditions facilitate disease. “Intensively reared pigs and poultry  account for 79% of UK farming  antibiotic use" Source

Supermarkets and food service companies are becoming more aware of this issue and the impacts to human health. Pressure to drive down on farm antibiotic use is increasing and this must be achieved without a consequent compromise on animal welfare, which would increase disease disk to both the animals and to humans.

Voluntary targets have been successful at driving down use in the UK thus far, but we have more recently seen a plateau. Some of the supermarkets are stepping up to this challenge but regulation may ultimately be required and have consequent impact on food availability.

Risks to health from consumption of contaminated food

At the national level, Public health experts are now somewhat belatedly turning their attention to the incidence of AMR in domestic and international food chains including the risk of resistance organisms entering the human gut via food. But governments may not have adequately prepared for this politically and economically sensitive form of AMR. Government inaction on AMR can have real human costs and will become more politically sensitive [4] as AMR increases. Also the rational underpinning antibiotics used in food production, when compared to human use, will increasingly receive greater analysis and scrutiny. Circular arguments around the lack of evidence-based data may be difficult to defend and could activate more precautionary policy-making. Source

“Resistant and multi-resistant bacteria such as Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter spp. have been detected both in animal-based foods and in production environments such as farms, industries and slaughterhouses” Source

From Defra’s 5 Year Action Plan (p.49): “Food and feed can be contaminated with resistant bacteria on the farm and from various sources such as slaughter and processing. Once in food, AMR [Antimicrobial Resistance] can spread far and wide through trade, causing infections throughout the food chain. Foodborne diarrhoeal diseases in themselves already pose a major health threat, the WHO estimate these kill around 230,000 people per year globally. Those caused by drug-resistant bacteria, such as salmonella, pose a particular risk to human health because of possible treatment failure; E.coli and enterococcus species (bacteria both commonly found in animal faeces) can carry resistance genes that can be transferred to human pathogens, fuelling the spread of resistance further.”

So, in addition to the high use of antibiotics on farm, animal agriculture may also increase the spread of antibiotic resistant pathogens. “Humans and other animals can acquire resistant pathogens and commensal organisms simply by ingesting them. Contaminated meat and other cross-contaminated foods cause millions of cases of gastrointestinal illnesses such as salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis each year in the USA alone” (Scallan et al. 2011). 

However, consumers, even without direct contact, can acquire these infections through consumption of Animal Based Foods, which in turn can lead to a larger number of hospitalizations, ineffective treatments and an increase in the number of deaths in consequence of infections by resistant bacteria. Source

The diagram below illustrates the connection of farm antibiotic use and resistance developing in people

 

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A reduction of factory farms would protect people from pandemic risk, reduce the risk of acquiring resistant pathogens from animals and result in de facto less antibiotic use on farms providing better food security in the process.


The on farm conditions that contribute to disease risk, extensive antibiotic use and food insecurity

 

 

 

 


How emissions from animal agriculture contribute to the climate crisis, which in turn impacts food security

         The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that emissions from animal agriculture represent 14.5% of annual anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, although this is based on outdated data and likely now represents an underestimate. New research says that “Rapid global phaseout of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years and offset 68 percent of CO2 emissions this century”

 

         This Our world in data report breaks the emissions down to source

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A report in National Geographic provides this illustration of predicted changes to crop yield

 

 


Land used to farm animals could provide greater global food security

 

 


Other human disease risks of consuming animal based products

We have already highlighted the issue of antibiotic resistant pathogens being passed to humans via animal food consumption.

Here are some other points of concern: