Factory pig farming forms a danger to public health

Do farmers have free rein in practice?

A planning application for construction of stabling for 3.500 pigs on the Venekoten was recently submitted in Ooststellingwerf. Planning applications for expansion of 2 pig stables on the Weperpolder are also being considered. In one case, the environmental permit is pending, in the other two cases, the permit has already been granted. In the municipality of Leemsterland, an application is being processed for expansion - from 6,000 to 10,000 pigs - of a stable on the Koopmanweg in Echtenerburg. The environmental permit is available for perusal.
Construction and expansion planning applications for pig farming are published well in advance on the Council pages in local papers. Citizens can make objections, provided they are stakeholders. To qualify as stakeholder you must at least be a direct neighbour of the farmer in question. And even then you will need to come with sufficient convincing arguments to prevent execution of the plans.
The numerous people concerned about the welfare of the thousands of animals to be held in these livestock factories and the environmental consequences thereof, are not considered stakeholders. Their objections are therefore mostly swept aside. In this way, the number of stakeholders remains "under control", as pig farmers do not normally have many neighbours. And that handful of people who are concerned about the effect on their personal living comfort, often give up the fight, disheartened at the influence of the Powers which assert themselves when economical issues are at stake. The result is that more and more of these factory farms appear, also in Friesland.
And yet, others than animal lovers and direct neighbours would be worried if they realised how unhealthy these mass stables are, for also for them. Because they do more than stink to high heaven. The list of health hazards of mass stables mainly contains only the emission of dust particles and ammonia. The ultramodern filters and air purifiers so acclaimed by champions of factory farming still allow through 10 to 40% of harmful dusts and stench. In itself detrimental enough for the inhabitants of neighbouring areas, but the much larger threat to public health remains underexposed.
Keeping animals in high concentrations has huge consequences for welfare and health. The stress caused by the unnatural conditions in which they are kept makes the animals extra prone to diseases. To combat this problem, they are administered preventive antibiotics in generous doses. In spite of attempts by authorities to limit use of antibiotics in livestock farming, this is only on the increase. Excessive use of antibiotics leads to immunity on the part of bacteria - the more they are administered, the less effective the drugs become. As a result, more than 50% of pig communities have already been infected by the resistant "hospital bacteria" MRSA.
MRSA stands for "Meticilline-Resistente Staphylococcus Aureus", an extremely dangerous bacteria for the elderly, children and people with reduced resistance. The bacteria forms an enormous threat to care centres such as hospitals and nursing homes. MRSA can lead to various infections and even to shock, but can also cause serious damage to vital organs via the bloodstream. Patients can die from infection of the heart valves. As the symptoms of MRSA infection are so diverse, doctors are often unable to detect them immediately.
Once an MRSA-infection has been diagnosed, an antibiotic will be prescribed. Antibiotics can be lifesaving. And this is where the biggest problem lies: the MRSA-bacteria is immune to practically all standard antibiotics. There are a few types with which the bacteria can be fought, but these have extremely nasty side effects. This is why Dutch medics are reluctant to use them. In Southern Europe, however, these antibiotics are prescribed on a large scale and even at this stage it is apparent that the MRSA-bacteria quickly becomes immune to these drugs also. As far back as 1998 the Health Council warned of the serious consequences of large scale antibiotic use in livestock farming. In 2006 the Risk Assessment Bureau of the Food and Goods Authorities announced that we could speak of mass MRSA infection in Dutch pig farming. Almost half of these pig farmers is a carrier of the bacteria. Pig farmers and their families are therefore placed in quarantine when being admitted to hospitals. Farms with thousands of pigs are dens of infection and form a health risk to people living in the neighbourhood and all who directly or indirectly come in contact with pig farmers, members of their household and the pigs and their meat. As the bacteria is probably spread by air, pig transports form an extra risk. The RIVM has informed that there is a high presence of MRSA on surface water around pig stables.
The general public hears little about this. If it does make the news, the danger to public health caused by the pig farming sector is played down. Too much attention to this subject would, after all stand in the way of the development of mass stables. There have been enough warnings from medical quarters, but the sector seems obstinate and the authorities come no further than halfhearted measures. An out- and- out public health crisis seems imminent. The Party for Animals has repeatedly raised this threat in parliament, the television programmes EĆ©nVandaag and Zembla have devoted airing time to it, and the organisation Pigs in Need (Varkens in Nood) has been protesting for years. That the ministers responsible do not intervene, only goes to show how much influence the livestock and meat sector has in The Hague. Economic interests would appear to bear more weight that public health.
Intensive livestock farming has lost sight of the human factor long ago. The very fact that it is impossible to keep animals on this scale without filling them up with antibiotics says enough. Yet the plea for increasing the scale continues despite the fact that more and more newspapers (only recently in an article by the Ministry for Housing, Regional Development and the Environment (VROM) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature) emphasise the necessity of consuming less meat and dairy products.
Authorities do precious little to curb the strides being made in livestock farming, in spite all of the serious objections in many areas. "Agrarian Entrepreneurs" wishing to set up a livestock factory, or to expand their industry to mass stable proportions are encounter not the slightest obstacle in their way.
Nobody seems to want a time bomb like this in their vicinity. But at the same time the number of pigs "living" in factory farming conditions in Ooststellingwerf are on the increase. (The numbers are now more than 10.000 against 26.241 inhabitants.) In Lemsterland a farm is expanding to 10.000 pigs. There are mass pig stables not far beyond the Council boundaries. And who is to say that it will stop at this?
The key question is: will you continue to allow yourself to be pushed aside as "non-stakholder", whilst your health and that of your family is at risk?

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