Intensive livestock farming provides more food, but increases the risk of the next pandemic

As the climate changes and the world population increases, more and more efficient food must be produced. Meat is often looked at for its nutrients and the opportunity to rapidly intensify this sector. However, this has many disadvantages, says a new analysis published in the scientific journal The progress of science.

Global warming puts food security under pressure and forces countries to produce food more efficiently. To meet current and future needs, the agricultural industry proposes “intensification”: more use of machinery, hormones and antibiotics, while increasing production.

In the short term, such an approach may have benefits, such as a decrease in deforestation, but the long-term risks will actually increase, says a new analysis published in the journal The progress of science. Researcher Matthew Hayek points, among other things, to the greater risk of an increase in pandemics as a result of zoonotic diseases, diseases that are transmitted by animals.

Intensification

The solution to the food problem, often cited by the agricultural sector, is aimed at increasing meat production through a more efficient use of resources, which then leads to intensive livestock farming. Because animals stay in closed spaces, this increases the risk of spreading zoonotic diseases such as bird flu.

“As long as global meat consumption continues to rise, both climate change and pandemics are likely to continue to rise.”

“As long as global meat consumption continues to rise, both climate change — from deforestation and methane emissions — and pandemics are likely to continue to rise,” said Matthew Hayek, an associate author of the study at New York University. He reviewed more than a hundred papers dealing with the effects of intensification of livestock farming on the environment and on zoonotic diseases.

He concludes that short-term intensification can reduce the need for animal feed and land use. Animals hardly need to move and therefore gain weight faster if they are placed in intensive facilities, rather than being left to roam and graze on open land. In the short term, this way of producing meat has benefits: it can reduce deforestation, preserve wildlife habitats and provide a buffer against diseases transmitted by these wild animals.

On the other hand, intensification means a greater chance of diseases specific to animals living in close proximity to each other.

Pigs and chickens

‘This way of raising animals, mostly used for pigs and chickens, allows diseases to spread and mutate quickly among the many thousands of animals in one facility,’ explains Hayek.

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Furthermore, the research reveals that raising chickens requires three times more antibiotics and 170 times more animals to produce the same amount of meat as livestock farming, increasing the risk of diseases such as avian influenza (bird flu) and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

‘Policy can help accelerate the shift to plant-based options by making plant-based choices more accessible, affordable and attractive.’

Switching meat consumption from beef to chicken may benefit the climate, Hayek claims, but it poses a risk of ‘faster spread of pandemic diseases’.

trap

In this way, according to him, meat consumption creates a ‘trap’: on the one hand, there is something to be said for promoting the free supply of animals, but then the habitats of wild animals must give way even more, on the other hand, intensive confinement of animals in limited space has As a result, there is a greater risk of disease.

“To prevent both climate change and costly pandemics at the same time, we need to rapidly reduce meat consumption, protect forests and improve livestock health. Policy can help accelerate the shift to plant-based options by transforming our food landscape and making plant-based choices more accessible, affordable and attractive,” concludes Hayek.

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