A zoonotic disease occurs when a disease causing agent is transmitted between humans and other animals. These infections have long been a part human society, but have more recently become a vast issue: 75% of emerging human diseases are zoonoses [1]. With the ongoing (and of zoonotic origin [2]) COVID-19 pandemic there is no better time than the present to begin addressing this staggering figure and to consider the reasons behind it.

It has often been suggested that zoonotic pathogens began emerging with the onset of farming [3] – approximately 12 000 years ago. In fact, an archaeological study addressing the domestication of goats (one of the first animals to be farmed) shows that their selective breeding for food production allowed a bacterium ‘Brucella’ to enter the early human farmer [3].

These transmissions are due to the unnatural conditions experienced by farmed animals. Causes of zoonotic transmission include poor sanitation of animals living in unnaturally dense populations, humans living in close contact to these animals, and humans expanding into rural areas [4]. Factory farming exhibits each of these trends, and to an extreme degree. Ending factory farming is therefore not only vital for animal welfare, but also for public health.

Intensive rearing of animals in confined spaces and unhygienic living conditions acts as an invitation for pathogens (disease causing agents) to proliferate and spread both between the animals and to the humans in contact with them. So surely it comes as no surprise that by consuming products derived from these animals, we are putting ourselves at risk, too?

As stated by Dr Tim O’Brien of CIWF: ‘Imposing industrial demands on farm animals may, quite literally, be producing fatal flaws in the end product – our food’ [5]. Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and Campylobacter are just some of the food poisoning causing pathogens that are prevalent in the world’s intensive farming industries. Additionally, and more worryingly, these factory farms also act as havens for swine influenza, bird influenza, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (‘mad cow’) [5]. Irrefutably, these diseases would not be of such paramount global concern if agriculture would scale back to more sustainable farming techniques.

In the UK, around 70% of all farmed animals are kept in factory farms [6] – a percentage that continues climbing. In parts of England, the number of intensive farms has increased six-fold since 2010 [7]. These figures are enough to make anyone concerned for animal welfare or environmental health reel, but also raise the question: what direct impact is this having on us?

A simple way to address this is by looking at illness stemming from food consumption. In the UK, approximately 1 in 28 people suffer from food poisoning every year [8]. This figure has near tripled over the last decade [8], indicating a positive correlation between foodborne illness and factory farming. Naturally, several factors may play into these statistics, but with the plethora of evidence stating that intensive farming produces meat, dairy and eggs that are of lower quality and pose a higher health risk, is it worth it?

In recent years, it has become public knowledge that factory farming is harmful for the environment and of course for the animals themselves, but the fact that it has detrimental effects on human health is often overlooked. For human societies to live a longer and higher quality life, as well as benefitting the world around them, we need to begin looking at the way our food is produced. It is neither healthy nor sustainable that 70% of animal products in the United Kingdom are derived from factory farms rife with disease and lacking in hygiene. Therefore, it is essential that this practice is ended, not only for the sake of animal welfare but also for ours.

Important Note: Here at Open Cages our priority is ensuring that all animals live a comfortable life, so we are fighting to eliminate the cruel practice of factory farming in the United Kingdom. Human health and environmental health are simply additional arguments in this battle.

If factory farming is a practice that concerns you, and one that you hopefully feel more informed of after reading this article, then please help us put an end to it by signing our petition.