Key Terms

Animal pandemics

The intensification of livestock farming has created new disease risks, as well as intensifying old ones, according to the FAO. It has been suggested that intensively farmed livestock is more susceptible to disease and the reason for the rapid spread of pandemics like bird and swine flu.

The outbreak of H7N9 bird flu in China in June 2018 killed more than 600 people. A swine flu outbreak in 2009 killed more than 15,000 people and led to the value of the world’s three biggest pork producers (Smithfield, Tyson and Hormel foods) to drop between 2-12%.

The overuse of antibiotics in factory farms has been shown to contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance, and to catalyse outbreaks of animal pandemics such as Swine Flu and Avian flu. An estimated $3bn of economic damage was caused by avian flu in the US in 2014 — 40 countries placed bans on US poultry and food companies — which was catalysed by factory farming.

The intensification of animal production has also led to the widespread occurrence of diseases, such as coccidiosis, salmonellosis, bacterial and viral respiratory tract diseases, cryptosporidiosis, and mastitis, together resulting in a high use of antibiotics. Factors in intensive animal husbandry that affect the occurrence of infectious disease and its control include population density, animal movements, poor management and hygiene practices.

The high costs of the African Swine Fever outbreak in 2019 are also examined in more detail in FAIRR’s blogs on the issue.