Are factory farms making us sick? This is one of the questions I pose in my new book, Farmageddon, out today. While animal welfare will always be at the heart of what I, and my organisation, Compassion in World Farming, does, there is even more at risk than the animals' welfare.
For the last three years I have researched the catastrophic effects of factory farming: the public health risks, the threat of antibiotic resistance and the nutritional nose dive that factory farmed food has taken.
Although it isn't the sole culprit in the obesity epidemic, factory farming is certainly a key player. Many argue that factory farming has actually stripped away much of the nutritional value of meat with a fat content that has soared.
Some scientists have claimed that in this day and age, it would take four factory farmed chickens to provide the same level of nutrients from a single organic chicken from the 1970s and up to a fifth of the weight of a meat chicken, is fat.
One study states that if the UK population reduced its saturated fat intake by 30%, heart disease would decrease by 15%.*
In addition to the nutritional lows, modern day farming in the developed world is now, sadly dominated by an industrial approach. This involves heavy reliance on pesticides, fertilisers and the propping up of an already broken system, with antibiotics fed to farm animals.
Antibiotics are now so widely used and abused on farms that they are losing their potency in human medicine. The Director General of the World Health Organisation warned the public in 2011, of 'a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and once again, kill unabated'. And yet the excessive use of antibiotics in intensive farming, continues. By the turn of the century, approximately half of all antibiotics produced in the world were destined for food animals.**
Antibiotics are used to prop up an inherently bad and disease-ridden system. Intensive farms are breeding grounds for disease, because they keep so many of animals in such close proximity. I have found that factory farms essentially promote disease.
I wroteFarmageddon, published by Bloomsbury, with political journalist Isabel Oakeshott, to unmask factory farming as one of the most pressing issues facing the future of our food.
In an attempt to feed the world we are in danger of sleepwalking into a another wave of industrialisation of our farming in Britain, which would bring with it a deeply diminished countryside, surging disease, unhealthy food, and growing world hunger.
Antibiotic resistance, wholly unhealthy meat and of course, animals kept in horrific conditions. How many more reasons do we need to end factory farming?
*S. Friel et al., 'Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse- gas emissions: food and agriculture', Lancet, 374, 9706 (2009), pp. 2016-25.
**C. Nathan, 'Antibiotics at the crossroads', Nature, 431 (2004), pp. 899-902; World Health Organization, 2011, 'World Health Day 2011.