Factory farming forms not only a health hazard for animals, but it now appears that public health can also be affected by it. High time for deep and worldwide reforms in the livestock sector.

By Marianne Thieme, (former director of the Dutch foundation "Wakker Dier” (Animal Awareness), now in Dutch parliament for the Party for the Animals).

Diseases such as Foot and Mouth, BSE, Swine Fever, Fowl Pest (including the mutated H5N1 variety) have almost become accepted as  part of daily life. These diseases lead each time to wide scale  suffering in animals and unreasonable extermination of healthy animals .
What's new is the threat to public health which seems to be caused by factory farming. During the spread of the Avian Flu pandemic, the threat of yet another disease has arisen: MRSA in pig farmers. The time is ripe for extensive investigation into the health hazards which our factory farming seems to bring about.  The related  social "cost price” of animal products, has not yet been reflected in  the price tags on the supermarket shelves!. 
The Dutch Centre for  Infectious Disease Control (CICD) issued a warning recently to all doctors and hospitals, requesting attention for the fact that pig farmers AND their animals appear to be infected on a large scale with the dangerous resistant MRSA bacteria, also known as a variety of the much-feared "hospital bacteria”. This bacteria, which is immune to many antibiotics, flourishes in an environment in which antibiotics are frequently used, such as hospitals, but also, as now appears in the pig sector.  
The Dutch Risk Assessment  Bureau of the Food and Commodities Authority (VWA)  announced that research among pigs  for slaughter showed that the hospital bacteria was present in 80% of pig-couples. The Bureau finds that pork meat now in shops should be tested for  MRSA in order to better assess the risks  of food poisoning. Earlier this year Prof. Schouten, director of this bureau, warned against increase in use of antibiotics among veterinaries in the meat sector and the resulting life-threatening pathogenic bacteria.   
Other known diseases which are transferrable from animals to humans are salmonella, campylobacter and BSE.
The rapid increase in livestock through the World and the equally growing trade in livestock and animal products leads to a heightened threat of animal diseases and diseases which can be transferred from animals to humans.

The pressure is on!

As the country with the highest livestock population in the World, The Netherlands should be first to take steps. Up to now each disease has been examined individually. There is no policy which takes into account the rise in pressure brought about by the large increase in livestock farming and trading.
There are some 1.500 cases of MRSA-infection on an annual basis The Netherlands. Investigations show that  the much-feared MRSA-bacteria  is present in 39 % of pigs for slaughter  in The Netherlands, as is evident from a recent investigation by the VWA (Food and Commodities Authority).  Of the pig farmers, 23 % are themselves infected by MRSA. A comparable  study in France shows similar results. The Centre for Infectious Disease Control (CICD) in The Netherlands is presently looking into to whether or not humans can transfer the pig-MRSA to fellow humans.
The  RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environmental Protection) campaigns for stricter preventive measures in hospitals, such as special hygienic controls upon admittance of patients who have been in contact with pigs. These special controls currently apply to foreign patients only.
More and more threats to public health seem to be connected to factory farming. Diseases such as BSE  come to mind, illegal use of growth hormones, excessive use of antibiotics in pig farming and a series of livestock transport scandals.
The campylobacter- en salmonella infections cause an estimated 100.000 illnesses in humans on an annual basis and are fatal to more than thirty humans in The Netherlands. Classical Avian Flu has by now also caused deaths in humans and a pandemic  in the case of the mutated H5N1 virus seems to be only a matter of time.


An estimated 400,000 kilograms of antibiotics are administered annually in The Netherlands. This  is an extremely high dosage. It is about four times as high as in a country like Denmark, for example. Earlier restrictive measures showed contrary effects.  A ban on the use of certain types of antibiotics only led to increase in general use. A ban on preventive administration per 1st January 2006 has not prevented rapid  increase in veterinary use of antibiotics, according to recent reports by the VWA.


Earlier studies by  CIDC-Lelystad (The Netherlands) show that campylobacter is swiftly  becoming resistant to the antibiotic Baytril.
Danish researchers discovered salmonella-bacteria which were already immune to eleven types of antibiotics.
It goes without saying that the interests of public health must  always prevail against economic interests in the livestock sector.
This is why it is high time to enforce fundamental reforms in the livestock sector on a worldwide scale.
The social costs, and not the production costs should be the deciding factor here.
This applies to politics, but also to consumers.
If only because the fate of 450 million animals in Dutch factory farming is also very much at stake.