The egg/meat/leather industries have displayed strong growth over the past decades due to rising demand for eggs, meat, and leather products. The reality is, those industries are one of the main causes of climate change. Moreover, they are able to potentially cause more viruses and antibiotic resistance through their impact on the animals. Then, why should we be scared? And why should we move towards more ethical practices?
First of all, what are those industries?
In order to harvest the maximum amount of eggs, egg farms keep millions of female birds, especially chickens, incarcerated in “battery” cages. The cages, roughly 18 inches by 24 inches for 10 hens, make a bird completely unable to lift a single wing and the wire mesh often cut into their feet. The birds are also crammed so close to each other that they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another which causes many fatal diseases. Moreover, the light and calorie reduced food are constantly manipulated to maximize egg production. Although more and more global industries tend to go organic and cage-free with automated feed and watering systems, ventilation, and lighting, a vast amount of egg farms are still intensive and the majority of hens never get to see the sun, breathe fresh air, or dust-breathe. On the other hand, male chicks who are usually worthless for the egg farms, get suffocated or thrown into high-speed grinders while they are still alive. A recent report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations showed that the global egg production has increased from 61.7 metric tons in 2008 to 76.7 metric tons in 2018, and that the total volume has exceeded by over 100% since 1990.
Meat and egg industries are similar to each other, in ways that they get the products by completely ignoring animal welfare, failing to provide adequate space to move, contact with others, and access to the outdoors. Pig and cattle farming turns the animals into machines that produce meat at the cost of unimaginable suffering from the day they are born; they experience harsh conditions such as overcrowding, deprivation, and forced branding, while locked in a small cage. Females get routinely impregnated by the “rape racks”, and the babies born afterwards are taken away from their mothers at a young age. Other unneeded or ill animals are brutally slaughtered while they are still conscious. In 2019, the world’s meat production was estimated to be around 325 metric tons, and it is expected to persistently grow. Furthermore, meat production causes extreme water pollution, water, land, and fertilizer use, deforestation, and greenhouse gas emission, having a disastrous impact on climate change.
Leather industry is a worldwide manufacturing category that supplies the raw, processed, and finished materials for making leather goods. The leather can be made from hides of various animals such as pigs, cows, sheep, goats, alligators, horses, buffalos, and more. Yet, many of those animals, even babies, endure the horrors of factory farming that are very similar to the meat industry. Leather goods market however, is expected to grow over time for its inherent qualities.
How could they cause more viruses and antibiotic resistance?
Surprisingly, factory farming presents a high risk in causing both viruses and antibiotic resistance. Several experts like the World Health Organization and the Centers
Disease Control and Prevention have previously warned about those risks from industrialized farming practices, let’s find out why.
According to a report from a think tank organization, 90% of global and 99% of American meat come from firms that force animals to be tightly packed together in harsh and unsanitary situations. However, those conditions, including weakened immune systems from stress, ammonia that burns lungs, and lack of fresh air or sunlight, are a perfect environment for the emergence and spread of diseases. Moreover, the demand for specific genes in farmed animals makes the animals genetically identical, which means that viruses can easily spread from each other without encountering any genetic variants that might stop it. Other experts have also been warning about the future pandemics that are likely to be more frequent, rapid, and fatal if humanity fails to transform the factory farming method. Additionally, a white paper authored by Humane Society International identified 5 primary pandemic risks associated with animal farms, mainly by creating a “petri dish” for pathogens to erupt, mutate, and spread. The list is as follows:
- Virus ‘spillover’: when expansion of farms into previously wild areas brings wild and domestic species together.
- Viral amplification: where novel viral strains are created through confining vast numbers of stressed animals indoors.
- Farm concentration: where dense geographic concentration of farms increases the risk of pathogens spreading.
- Global live animal trade: where huge numbers of live animals are transported between countries and continents, allowing pathogens to spread even further.
- Live animal markets, agricultural fairs, and auctions: where “hubs” are created such that animals from many different places are brought into proximity with the public, where viruses can proliferate.
Similarly, another pandemic risk related to factory firms is antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are medications that are able to prevent the spread, reduce serious consequences of diseases, and treat bacterial infections. However, when an antibiotic no longer has an effect on a certain bacterium, those bacteria are said to be antibiotic resistant. Consequences of antibiotic resistance are usually more severe and brutal, resulting in more health care problems. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics are a key factor leading to antibiotic resistance, and the industries often play a role in this process.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has explained in detail the importance of proper use of antibiotics for the animal farms. For most livestock industries, antibiotics are intensely consumed to accelerate weight gain and control infections, not to treat sick animals. Nevertheless, the use exceeds a certain limit and results in animals carrying bacteria that are antibiotic resistant in their guts. Then, those bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans via different contacts; from direct contacts and through cross-contaminations of the food chain and environment. For example, meat and other animal products can be contaminated from slaughtering animals and processing food, and if animal waste that contains the bacteria is penetrated into the surrounding environment, other fruits or vegetables from the soil, water, or fertilizer can be contaminated. Now, if humans get into those contacts, they can catch the same diseases caused by the bacteria and they often end up with increased frequency of hospitalization, treatment failures, and longer, fatal illnesses.
Thus, it is evident that the factory farm process can impact the entire human race through viruses and antibiotic resistance.
Why should we be scared? Why should we move towards more ethical practices?
The current practices are greatly unsustainable and unethical for animals and they are affecting not only the animals, but also the human beings on the Earth. The industries are responsible for mass suffering; how the animals are raised and how they live pose a moral question for everyone. Therefore, extensive regulations, enforcement, and a health-oriented system in which the wellbeing of animals is prioritized throughout the industries will be crucial in leading the industries to the right way. Moreover, the industries have impacts on other factors like viruses and antibiotic resistance, further highlighting the actions of humans. The questions of what those industries will do in the future and what we should do for the future are not distant– any individual taking a part in society should take responsibility.