Factory Farm Legacy: Animal Torture, Water and Air Pollution and Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

From: Organic Consumers Association, September 18, 2013

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA’s Factory Farming page and our Food Safety page.

The days of the small farmer raising his cattle, hogs and hens on green pastures are long gone. Today America’s farming landscape resembles a windowless, animal gulag system filled with metal sheds, wire cages, gestation crates and confinement systems.

Factory farms aren’t about feeding the hungry or harvesting healthy food. They’re about maximizing profits for a handful of the world’s largest agribusiness corporations, and the biotech and pesticide companies that fuel their factories and feed their animals.

Today, nearly 65 billion animals worldwide, including cows, chickens and pigs, are crammed into CAFOs and slaughtered annually. These animals are literally imprisoned and tortured in unhealthy, unsanitary and unconscionably cruel conditions.

Factory farms produce unhealthy animals. And unhealthy people. About 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are used on factory farms, either to prevent disease or stimulate growth. Meanwhile, about 70,000 Americans die each year from “superbugs” that have developed a resistance to antibiotics.

Animal Torture Chambers

Over 300 million: The number of laying hens in the United States; of these, some 95 percent are kept in wire battery cages.

67: The average number of square inches of space allowed in each hen’s wire battery cage – less than the size of a standard sheet of paper.

72: The number of square inches of space a hen needs to be able to stand up straight.

303: The number of square inches a hen needs to be able to spread and flap her wings.

2 ft: The width of a factory farm sow cage – too small for them even to turn around or lie down comfortably.

2 ft.: The width of a factory farm cage for calves who are raised for veal.

None: The time provided to chickens and hogs raised in factory farms to spend outdoors, breathe fresh air or experience natural light.

None: The time provided to dairy and beef cattle to graze in a pasture where they could express their natural behavior (and ideal diet).

80: The percentage of antibiotics used in the United States that are given to farm animals, as a preventative measure or to stimulate growth. Growth stimulants are prohibited in Europe, but not here.

23 million: The number of pounds of antibiotics added to animal feed every year, to make the animals grow faster.

875 million: The number of U.S. animals, or 8.6%, who died lingering deaths from disease, injury, starvation, suffocation, maceration, or other atrocities of animal farming and transport.

Endangering Human Health

220 billion: The number of gallons of animal waste dumped by factory farms onto farmland and into our waterways every year.

73,000: The number of E. coli and salmonella outbreaks in 2007.

70,000: The number of Americans that die every year because of force-feeding animals antibiotics that helps breed antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”

5,000: The number of deaths per year from food borne illnesses in the U.S.

4.5 million: The approximate number of Americans exposed to dangerously high nitrate levels in their drinking water. Agricultural Waste is the number-one form of well-water contaminants in the U.S.

14: The percentage of factory farm chickens that tested positive for
68: The percentage of chickens with salmonella that showed resistance to one or more antibiotics.

40: The percentage of cows in industrial dairies that are injected with genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase their milk yields.

70: The percentage of chicken producers that used the toxin roxarsone in their feed additives between 1995 and 2000.

3: The number of cases of mad cow disease identified in cattle in the U.S. — in December 2003, June 2005, and March 2006.

Over 90: The percentage the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scaled back testing for mad cow disease starting in the fall 2006, claiming that testing was expensive and detection of infected cows was rare.

Nearly 43: The percentage of large-scale dairies (over 500 head) that used rBGH on their cows in 2007, compared to 30 percent of mid-sized dairies, and nine percent of small dairies.

Antibiotics are widely used by U.S. meat industry, Consumer Reports
Report: Bacteria in chicken too high, Consumer Reports
10 Reasons to Fear Your Food Supply, Takepart.com
Factory-Farmed Chickens: Their Difficult Lives and Deaths, Britannica Advocacy for Animals
CAFO’s Uncovered, Union of Concerned Scientists

Zack Kaldveer, Assistant Media Director for the Organic Consumers Association, compiled these statistics.


And From the UK Guardian:

Mad cow, bird flu, pink slime? The bigger threat is antibiotics in our meat

23,000 people die each year in the US from overuse of antibiotics. We should regulate antibiotic use in agriculture


  •  Wednesday 18 September 2013
                                          Beef carcasses at a wholesale meat market in Paris
Beef carcasses at a wholesale meat market. Photograph: Francois Mori/AP

Remember pink slime – that Dayglo-bright mash of ground up meat scraps and cow connective tissues larded with industrial strength ammonia that was being served up in school lunch programs in the United States last year?

More ominously, there was mad cow disease, which has killed scores of people in Britain and elsewhere. Bird-flue outbreaks originating in poultry farms  in China and Southeast Asia have also led to periodic scares. And did I mention salmonella?

But these food-related scourges pale in comparison with another threat, which was the subject of a report released Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control: the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. In its first estimate of the scope of the problem, the CDC says that 23,000 people – and possibly many more than that – die in the US each year from infection by microorganisms that can no longer be controlled by our current array of antibiotics.

We’ve known for a long time that our chronic overuse of antibiotics is helping to create these dangerous new strains of bacteria. Public health officials worry that doctors are routinely overprescribing powerful broad-spectrum antibiotics for everything from stomach aches to common colds. The CDC report says that 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not actually necessary.

But antibiotics are not just overused in medical care; we’re also feeding them indiscriminately to cows, pigs and chickens. Fully 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are administered to farm animals in their water and feed. The use of these drugs in agriculture is virtually unregulated, according to Keeve Nachman, the director of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University.

Nachman told me that we don’t know exactly what antibiotics are being used in meat production, or how large the doses that are administered are. Even more critically, we don’t know how much of these antibiotics remains in the meat that we eat. There is no requirement to routinely test for this. Eating meat, even with low doses of antibiotics, he warns, may lead to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in our own guts, if the meat is mishandled or undercooked.

There is also ample evidence that the overuse of antibiotics has created resistant bacteria in the external environment. Studies have shown them in water downstream from livestock farms, as well as in the air and soil near facilities where antibiotics are used. Nachman himself published a study yesterday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that shows that people living near swine production sites are more likely to be infected with the superbug MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

In light of these risks, the CDC report says pointblank:

The use of antibiotics for growth is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out.

Most antibiotics currently used on farms are not for the treatment of sick animals, or even the prevention of disease, but to promote the growth and weight of livestock. Until recently scientists didn’t know how antibiotics stimulated growth. However, a study published in the journal Nature last year helped to clear up this mystery.

New York University researchers found that antibiotics have a big impact on what is called the microbiome, the teeming ecosystem of billions of diverse bacteria that live within the gut. Not only do they kill off many valuable microorganisms, but they also apparently alter the ability of some gut bacteria to metabolize carbohydrates. With the result that mice that the scientists fed antibiotics fattened up, just as as livestock do.

So if animals typically put on weight when they take antibiotics, what about humans? A study published in the Journal of Obesity found a strong correlation between exposure to antibiotics in childhood and later obesity. But that may not be the worst of it. Evidence is also mounting that low microbial diversity in the gut is associated with a whole range of inflammatory illnesses including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

With all of these dangers deriving from our overuse of antibiotics, Keeve Nachman argues that the time has come to get serious about regulating them. He says:

The FDA has proposed a voluntary program in which the pharmaceutical companies are asked to give up their drug approvals for purposes of growth promotion and to relist them for purposes of disease prevention.

But Nachman calls this “essentially a shell game” which will change how the drugs are labelled, but not the way they are actually used in animals.

To solve the problem, he says, we’ll have to ban antibiotics except in actual cases of illness. Farmers should be required to get a prescription from a veterinarian, much as you and I need a prescription from their physician before we can use the drugs.

There are already several European countries that have banned the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in meat production. But so far neither Congress nor regulators in the US have been willing to stand up to the livestock lobby and protect the public’s health.

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