June 25, 2009
File under: Environmental Concerns, Public Health
On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6 in response to the ongoing global spread of the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus.
A Phase 6 designation indicates that a global pandemic is underway.¹ The WHO designation of a pandemic alert Phase 6 reflects the fact that there are now ongoing community level outbreaks in multiple parts of world. The 1918 flu epidemic was the last major global pandemic and killed 20 to 50 million people.
Modern agriculture and industrialized animal production has had a dramatic impact on society, human health and the environment.
Public interest groups like the Organic Consumers Association and the Humane Society of the United States have been warning consumers for years about how the intensive confinement in factory farms could incubate deadly viruses. The horrific conditions inherent in factory farms make the inevitability of setting off a deadly epidemic only a matter of time.²
According to the Environmental Protection Agency these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) confine thousands of animals in a single facility and generate 300 million tons of waste annually.
The waste is funneled into massive lagoons that emit ammonia, toxic hydrogen sulfide and methane gases. These cesspools often break, leak or overflow, sending dangerous microbes, nitrate pollution and drug resistant bacteria into our water supplies. What’s more, the farms often spray the manure onto land, ostensibly as fertilizer.
About 40 percent of the world’s grain harvest is fed to animals. Cattle are ruminants uniquely suited to eat grass. Beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, have unnaturally acidic stomachs. This diet promotes rapid weight gain and creates an ideal environment for a particularly virulent, acid loving strain of bacteria, E. coli O157 to thrive.
In 2003, The Journal of Dairy Science reported that up to 80 percent of dairy cattle carry E. coli O157.³ It is the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach growing on neighboring farms.4
A dangerous and rapidly spreading strain of influenza, which combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before, has killed at least 167 people and been confirmed in nearly 40,000 globally.
The new strain of H1N1 flu is causing “something different” to happen in the United States this year, an extended year-round flu season that disproportionately hits young people.
The United States has been hardest hit, with upwards of 100,000 likely cases, with 44 deaths and 1,600 hospitalized. “The fact that we are seeing ongoing transmission now indicates that we are seeing something different,” the CDC’s Dr. Daniel Jernigan told a news briefing.
According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM),a research and advocacy group in Washington, DC, the link to animal industries is undeniable.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one-third to one-half of pigs on modern farms have antibody evidence of the H1N1 virus. This is due to the fact that overcrowded pig farms create the perfect reservoir for this virus to replicate, creating new and more deadly strains. Once a pathogen emerges it is then spread by farm workers and the transport of livestock.
Without CAFO pig farms there would be no swine flu epidemic. According to PCRM, the typical American consumes more than 200 pounds of meat a year, including a significant amount of pork.
A collective shift away from meaty diets could help eliminate the farms that breed infectious disease. Meatless meals would also dramatically decrease obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
- Statements by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on WHO Decision to Declare Novel H1N1 Virus Outbreak a Pandemic http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/statement061109.htm
- Livestock’s long shadow, Environmental issues and options
By H. Steinfeld, P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, C. de Haan - 2006, 390 pp
- T. R. Callaway, R. O. Elder, J. E. Keen, R. C. Anderson, and D. J. Nisbet. Forage Feeding to Reduce Preharvest Escherichia coli Populations in Cattle, a Review J. Dairy Sci. 2003; 86:852-860
- S. A. Bradford, E. Segal, W. Zheng, Q. Wang, and S. R. Hutchins.
Reuse of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Wastewater on Agricultural Lands
J. Environ. Qual., September 2, 2008; 37(5_Supplement): S-97 - S-115.