VETERINARY ECONOMICS, ETHICS & FARM ANIMAL WELFARE
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Despite, and in part because of advances in the biomedical sciences, the health and welfare of farmed animals have been on the decline over the past three to four decades, due principally to competitive economic pressures in the livestock and poultry industries. This statement may seem outlandish, if not offensive to those many veterinarians dedicated to improving the health and well-being of animals under their care. But as this review will document, the veterinary profession has become as much a victim of these forces and trends as the animals themselves.
The advent of CAPOs—confined animal production operations —has meant increased reliance on vaccines and drugs to control disease and to maximize production and profits in livestock and poultry husbandry systems that are highly stressful, immuno-compromising and create consumer and worker health and safety problems. A percentage of animal morbidity and mortality—and associated suffering—is accepted as the price of doing business ‘economically and efficiently. CAPOs have also decimated rural communities and that meant the demise of the ‘mixed’ veterinary practice, a return to which some advocate, not out of nostalgia but from a sense of community renewal and sustainability.
Except as a provider of drugs and vaccines and monitor of zoonotic diseases, the food-animal veterinarian is limited in what can be done economically beyond being merely a service provider to the industry. Food animal veterinarians have knowledge and skills that are rarely applied because they add to production costs of CAPOs, the exceptions being with valuable foundation and breeding stock, small farm and ranch operators, and organic and livestock and poultry producers whose husbandry practices are more challenging and usually more humane than CAPOs.
The veterinary bioethical principle of the One Health (where human health=animal health=environmental health) is undermined by the economic pressures on CAPO managers who are forced ‘to seek greater efficiencies’ to quote from the editorial comment in the British Veterinary Association’s Veterinary Record (1).
There has been much recent discussion about recruitment of veterinarians into the food animal medicine sector, and what the future may hold for new graduates. Heather Lyons Narver, VMD, in her Commentary ‘Demographics, moral orientation, and veterinary shortages in food animal and laboratory animal medicine’ (2) raises some pertinent concerns. Aside from the current predominance of women in veterinary colleges in the US, the shortage of both men and women in the food animal and laboratory animal medicine sectors may reflect a convergence of gender-linked differences in moral philosophy. This is with respect to animals being treated ‘as an economic commodity’ and ‘as an intellectual commodity’ to use Dr. Narver’s terms, in these respective sectors.
There is limited employment opportunity for veterinarians in CAPOs. For economic reasons, veterinary services and compassionate care are short-changed in the CAPOs of the main-stream food and drug industries that accept a percentage of animal loss from stress, injuries and disease. Any percentage of disease loss when those diseases are indicators of bad husbandry, (also termed production-related, or domestogenic diseases) is ethically questionable.
The veterinary mission to control and prevent these indicator diseases reflective of pathogenic conditions and unsound husbandry and breeding practices is not as laudable as it once was, now that the cost-justified suffering of animals in CAPOs is evoking more public concern as well as the ‘carbon footprint’ and other hidden costs of ‘cheap’ meat.(3 ). The long predicted (4) development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA and MRSP (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Staph. psuedointermedius) in livestock infecting humans, and of CAPOs becoming the epicenters for human pandemics like avian and swine flu have come to pass, further underscoring the inherent flaws in the livestock industry that will not be rectified simply by treating animal produce with isotopic irradiation, (that causes brain damage when fed to cats). Freeze-drying and hydrostatic pressure food treatments may be less hazardous alternatives.
What then are veterinary colleges and these animal-based industries doing to fill this lack of food animal veterinarians that could mean lower standards of animal health, consumer safety/public health, animal welfare and animal protection oversight? To possibly help rectify the shortage of veterinarians in the food animal sector the multinational drug company Pfizer Animal Health has teamed with the American Veterinary Medical Foundation to award $2,500 scholarships to more than 225 veterinary students in the US (5).
CLIMATE CHANGE HARMING FARM ANIMALS
It is a tragic irony that the billions of farm animals raised for human consumption are a major contributing factor to Climate Change and are dying and suffering as a consequence of climatic extremes world-wide. In the U.S. producers enjoy tax-payer support in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Disaster Relief and Livestock Indemnity programs providing compensation for losses due to extreme heat and cold. But the animals have no relief.
Pigs and poultry in overcrowded factory sheds suffer hyperthermia when ventilation systems fail or cannot keep up with rising temperatures and humidity. They are less “productive,” suffer inhaling ammonia and other toxic fumes from their excrement over which they must live, and many die.
Likewise dairy cows produce less milk under heat stress and many, along with beef cattle, are exposed to the elements in feedlots or out on the range. According to Texas A&M University the economic loss for cattle, sheep and goat farmers was $228 million from the 2021 winter storm, actual numbers of animals freezing to death not being posted.
The main-stream media rarely reports on the plight of these factory farmed animals in sheds decimated by storms and tornadoes or when torrential rains burst the lagoon dams holding animal waste that then pollutes rivers and lakes and ultimately, the drinking water of many communities. Nor do we hear about their suffering out on the range decimated by decades of overgrazing and drought.
The energy used to ventilate factory farm sheds adds to the “carbon footprint” of the livestock and poultry industries in addition to the millions of acres of agricultural land dedicated to raising feed for them. This land is rarely seeded with a post- corn and soyabean harvest “cover crop” to serve as a carbon sink and protect and enrich the topsoil.
Communities living close to factory farms suffer a variety of health problems from the foul air being blown out of these sheds and from the high nitrate content of animal waste spread on fields that finishes up in their drinking water along with toxic algal blooms from the high phosphates in such waste that contaminates lakes and streams.
Pig and poultry factories are also point-sources of influenza virus epidemics and outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and other, often antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when slaughter houses/processing facilities were closed down after workers contracted this disease, animals destined for slaughter were held in confinement, the delays in shipment causing much suffering.
RECYCLING BY-PRODUCTS & FOOD SAFETY
Both production-enhancing drug and vaccine addicted livestock and poultry industries, and the petrochemical and pesticide addicted, gene-engineering human food and beverage, and livestock feed industries, create enormous volumes of sometimes hazardous waste by-products that are recycled very profitably into pet foods, livestock feeds, fertilizer and human supplements, cosmetics and toiletries and a host of other secondary consumables. The safety of these secondary consumables, many imported from third world countries by US manufacturers, are too complex and costly to effectively police. This is what the heads of government agencies like the USDA and FDA say at every Congressional hearing on some major E.coli hamburger or contaminated spinach recall, or massive pet food recall as at the Senate Sub-committee hearings in 2007.
The animal and human health benefits of prebiotics and probiotics, along with biologically appropriate diets, which nurture beneficial gut bacteria, parallel organic farming practices that benefit soil microorganisms essential to crop health and nutrient content. Both gut and soil bacteria are respectively harmed by agrichemicals, antibiotics and GM (genetically modified) crops and foods leading to bacterial population imbalances and dysbiosis.
THE PROFESSIONS’ FUTURE
As the percentage of veterinary college graduates seeing advanced training increases, the DVM/VMD degree is being seen as an ‘entry- level degree’ (6). And as more graduates work toward certification in various specialty fields, particularly in the companion animal sector, we may find there is an increasing shortage of general practitioners, a recognized regional problem in human health care industry. Increasing service costs to clients could mean fewer companion animals receive adequate veterinary care. The net result of new DVM graduates feeling inadequate and compensating for a lack of practical clinical experience through mentorship and internship programs by electing instead to work toward board-certification in some specialty such as internal medicine or dermatology, aside from the promise of higher incomes (7) remains to be seen. Veterinarian Jeffrey A. LaCroix (8) calls for a limited licensure where veterinary students would elect to specialize in either companion animal or food animal medicine, for example, at the start of their education rather than investing in subsequent postgraduate specialization. ‘In the current economic climate, there are even fewer pet owners willing and able to pay for this (specialist-referral) level of care. In this scenario, the specialist may find many more colleagues sharing a smaller pie.”
There are surely veterinary students who would like to work with wild animals but not in a laboratory or conventional zoo and circus setting, or with farmed animals under organic and other humane husbandry systems, especially in the aid programs for ‘developing’ countries. But funding is often lacking in these non-commercial sectors, and having to pay off hefty student loans can leave veterinary graduates with few options outside of the commercial and animal research industry sectors, especially in developing and testing new drugs, vaccines, and high-tech diagnostics and therapies.
Many epidemiologists and other biomedical scientists contend that more research should be done in-field, and not in laboratories trying to simulate various animal diseases, often with considerable difficulty without violating animal protection laws and institutional animal research protocols. Focusing on the ecology of animal disease and health, many veterinary students would enroll in a farmed/food animal or wildlife specialty. Others could specialize in veterinary immunology, genetics and pathology that would better serve the new wave of organically certified and humane animal production systems and wildlife and biodiversity conservation fields rather than the end goals of CAPOs and the increasingly dysfunctional global food industry. Better to address the root causes of dysfunction than to develop yet stronger pesticides, vaccines, and veterinary medicines for ever more CAPOs that are the antithesis of humane animal husbandry, and are seen by many communities, health and environment experts, as destroying all hope for a more viable and fulfilling future.
I see grounds for hope when veterinary schools develop and offer degree programs, postgraduate internships and residencies, as well as advanced degrees which enable students to work in these emergent sectors that are calling for veterinarians to help with animal health and welfare problems, and also wildlife preservation and habitat restoration. These emergent sectors are notably in extensive, organic and other less intensive animal husbandry (including aquaculture) systems, and in wildlife medicine where veterinary expertise can be crucial in efforts to save endangered species and other wildlife and their habitats as well as addressing new ‘emerging’ zoonotic diseases. Specializing in ‘exotic’ animal medicine to serve those who keep various wild species as ‘pets’ or as a hobby, and who support the often illegal market trade in wildlife, is an ethically questionable professional pursuit.
Perhaps all first year veterinary students should take a basic introductory clinical course in applied bioethics (9) with an emphasis on the ecology, ethics, and economics of domestic and wild animal diseases that tie in with sustainable and healthful food production, water and other resource management, conservation and preservation practices, and especially with genetic preservation in terms of the biodiversity of both seed-stock and breed-stock. Such a course could be revisited in the final year to help give clarity and resolution to their future professional goals. Learning the elements of indigenous wisdom especially concerning sustainable agricultural practices, medicinal and food plants, and the adaptive and productive traits of rare breeds and their inherent biological value—ethnoveterinary medicine—would broaden the vision of students if not also their future career choices and opportunities.
Real progress in veterinary and human medicine will come not in correcting the problems of dysfunctional and often over-capitalized, energy-consuming, life and nutrition-degrading, and environmentally damaging systems and industries, but in client education, and in the creative anarchism and paradigm shift toward a more holistic, integrative approach to health care and maintenance, rather than profiting from treating disease and suffering, and in the process simply preserving the status quo. Informed consumers vote with their dollars when there is freedom of choice that monopolistic oligopolies abhor. For companion animal veterinary business enterprises to have to sell products and services that are at best ethically questionable and at worse do more harm than good, in order to stay in business, would be an unethical pursuit for any reasonably intelligent and rational life form.
Californians’ moral outrage and loving concern for animals was evident in their voting approval of Proposition 12 by a 2-1 ratio in November 2018 which was to take effect Jan 1st 2022, requiring that breeding pigs (sows), laying hens and veal calves be given enough space to stand and turn around. This reminds me of the response by the late animal science professor, Dr. Stanley Curtis, when asked at a Senate subcommittee hearing (where I was also testifying to put an end to being raised by the veal industry in narrow crates) if he thought veal calves actually needed to turn around. His response” We need to do more research to be sure.”
Implementation of the humane initiative from California been blocked by a lawsuit filed by the CA Groceries and restraint Associations, CA Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, CA Retailers Association and meat processor Kruse & Sons who are seeking a 28-month delay until final regulations for enforcement of rules are officially adopted according to Associated Press reporters Scott McFetridge and Charlie Neibergall in their article Farm-animal Law Prompts Lawsuit (Star Tribune, Dec 25th 2021).This reminds me of William Shakespeare’s quips about “The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office and the spurns. That patient merit of the unworthy takes.”
The European Union is now considering a ban to prohibit the use of cages for laying hens, rabbits, broiler breeders and laying hens, quail, ducks, geese, farrowing crates for sows, sow stalls and individual calf pens. The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe has called for an “urgent” shift away from sow farrowing crates across Europe, now banned in Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
Push-back by vested interests in the U.S. against efforts to improve the welfare of commercially exploited animals, arguing that changes would increase consumer costs, is now becoming ludicrous with President Joe Biden proposing in 2022 to give$1 billion to support smaller, independent meat and poultry producers whose profit-margins are shrinking. Monopolistic control by four meat and poultry processors causing price distortions (Tyson Foods, Cargill Meat Solutions (Excel), JBS USA (Swift) and National Beef) are profiting them royally while the market costs for consumers of meat and poultry are sky-rocketing.
But this proposed $1 billion subsidy to help consumers fight price hikes for meat is contrary to the initiatives needed to address climate change, consumer health and animals’ rights and welfare; and as a vegetarian I find the cost of other basic food commodities rising no less than meat. Democracy is better served when political leaders take the bull by the horns and do not chicken out, cow-tow or are ham-strung and hog tied to major donors, especially Big Ag and Big Pharm. Every state and nation need government lawmakers who eschew pork barrel politics and not be buttered-up by hog-wild lobbyists to pig out at the corporate trough and beef up their election campaign coffers. Most need to bone up on the science of animal sentience (visit https://drfoxonehealth.com/post/animal-sentience/) and our collective duty of care.
FROM ANIMAL DOCTOR SYNICATED NEWSPAPER COLUMN April 2022 PUTTING AN END TO CRUEL ANIMAL FACTORY FARMS By Dr. Michael W. Fox
Consumers and producers of farmed animal products—meats, eggs and dairy—along with markets are responding to the documented animal and public health, animal welfare and environmental concerns associated with intensive factory farm systems, so called CAFOs-confined/concentrated animal feeding operations.
The Global Animal Partnership is one of the largest animal welfare food labeling programs in North America. For details visit. Global Animal Partnership: Animal Welfare Food Labeling …https://globalanimalpartnership.org
Look for their label, “Animal Welfare Certified” on any animal products you purchase and also on pet foods as per veterinarian Dr. Bob Goldstein’s Wisdom dog foods and treats. Our dog relished his Turkey kibble recipe which smells delectable and which I can feed our dog in good conscience.( For details visit www.earthanimal.com). Devatha P. Nair March 15, 2022 in a posting on Sentient media writes:
Emissions from factory farms in the United States now cause more deaths than traditional polluting industries such as coal-fired plants, with air pollution coming from agriculture accounting for 17,900 deaths every year. And yet, factory farming is one of the least regulated industries by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Most farms are currently protected by an amnesty deal that protects the industry’s biggest players from any meaningful enforcement of environmental protection laws. The inability of the EPA to regulate the livestock industry led to 24 advocacy organizations filing a legal petition to enforce federal air pollution laws against high polluting farms, which the agency has refused to do for nearly two decades. The groups are asking the EPA to stop giving factory farms a free pass to pollute and start doing more to protect communities and the environment.” For more details go to Most Factory Farms Have ‘Free Pass’ to Pollute the Environment (sentientmedia.org)
Collateral Damage: How Factory Farming Drives Up the Use of Toxic Agricultural Pesticides: A report from The Center for Biological Diversity and World Animal Protection.
• This new report analyses the use of six common pesticides sprayed on crops used for factory-farmed pig, poultry and cattle feed. • According to the report, 235 million pounds of pesticides were used on corn and soybean crops in 2018. • All of the pesticides and herbicides listed in the report threaten the flora and fauna of the ecosystems surrounding the crops they are used on, the authors assert.For details go to WAP_Collateral_Damage_Report_02_04_22_R3.pdf (dkt6rvnu67rqj.cloudfront.net)
The Animal Welfare Act, which sets minimum standards for animals used in zoos or research or sold as pets, specifically exempts animals raised for food. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the 28-Hour Law (the latter which covers farmed animals in transport) are weakly enforced, and both exempt poultry, which make up 98 percent of US land animals raised for food.
As avian flu spreads through the poultry industry in 2022, millions of broiler chickens, laying hens and turkeys are being culled en masse. Veterinarians are among those demanding an end to some of the ‘cruelest’ killing methods such as ventilation shutdown causing death by suffocation and hyperthermia. See The Guardian: ‘They’re Cooking Them Alive’: Calls to Ban ‘Cruel’ Killing Methods on US Farms:
Factory farmed animals suffer from inherited health problems as a consequence of genetic selection for very rapid growth (for more flesh/meat and fat) and productivity ( of eggs, milk). This issue, which I raised in my book Farm Animals: Husbandry, Behavior, and veterinary Practice ( Viewpoints of a Critic), University Park Press Baltimore MD 1984, is at last beginning to be addressed since animal welfare and health should take precedence over productivity and profitability. The Global Animal Partnership, an animal welfare certifier, endorsed by Amazon..com’s Whole Foods, is setting new standards for broiler chicken producers setting new rules for breeding programs to begin in 2016 to reduce the adverse health consequences of selective breeding for accelerated growth.
THE BIG BEEF ABOUT BEEF
According to the BBC News ( July 1⁄19) satellite data an area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch is now being cleared every single minute. The rate of losses has accelerated as Brazil’s new right-wing president favors development (for beef and soybean production) over conservation. The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.
Shaley Lensegrav, writing for Tri-State Livestock News, March 28⁄19, reports: “A recent meeting between President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro set specifications into motion that could lead to the return of Brazilian beef to United States markets if the processing facilities pass inspection…… The introduction of Brazilian beef could negatively affect herd health and the beef markets in the U.S., say some.” For more details visit https://the ecologist.org/2019/jul/02/jbs-brazilian-butchers-take-over-world
It should be noted that the U.S. government has blocked efforts to indicate country of origin of marketed beef. The United States imports beef from places like Australia, Canada, and much of Latin America. It then runs that beef through a USDA inspection and, if it passes, sticks a label on it that reads “Product of the U.S.A. ”according to the Western Organization of Resource Councils ( http://www.worc.org/were-importing-beef-and-labeling-it-product-of-the-usa/).
Most U.S. beef producers are opposing protection of the wolf under the Endangered Species Act and are largely responsible for the virtual demise of the mountain lion as well as the wolf across their natural ranges and the consequential decline in biodiversity and ecosystem health. In the Amazon, indigenous natives are experiencing a similar fate as native American Indians a century ago from such commercial expropriation.
Much of the “Beef’ in pet foods is recycled cattle remains condemned for human consumption and classified as “4-D” meat—parts from cattle who are diseased, debilitated, dying or dead on arrival at the processing plant. Some could soon be coming from Brazil. Aside from consumer health concerns with the association of high beef consumption with breast, prostate and colon cancer, animal welfare and environmental concerns call for informed consumers who wish to eat beef with conscience to purchase local, grass-fed and Organically Certified beef products. Globally, beef production has the greatest negative impact on the environment and use of water and land for feed compared with poultry production. So from now on the animals in our home will not have any pet foods containing “Beef” “Beef Meal, Beef Tallow” or unspecified “Meat Meal” “Meat By-products” “Bone Meal” and “Animal Fat.”
Cattle barons East and West became some of the first capitalists, (cattle being linked etymologically and historically with chattel; and along with other scions of industrial civilization the Earth cannot sustain their takings any more which civil society can rectify in the market place by voting with their dollars and sense. The British Veterinary Association’s call in April 2019 to consumers to eat less animal produce and be prepared to pay more from sources certified humane and sustainable because of concerns over animal welfare, economic viability, climate change and loss of biodiversity is quite remarkable considering the long-standing ties between the profession and the livestock and poultry industries.
SUPREME COURT TO CONSIDER THE PLIGHT OF PIGS
Sixty-three percent of California voters supported Proposition 12 in 2018 which would prohibit the in-State sale of farmed animal produce from animals raised both within and out of State under extreme, confined conditions—so called factory farms. This immediately impacted egg and veal producers, many responding by adopting more humane husbandry practices. But the call to pig producers to end confining sows in crates and stalls met resistance.
The National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation, both with whom I have had dealings with in the past, contend that this would violate protection under the Constitution of the free flow of interstate commerce. In March 2022 they succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to hear their appeal to overturn this ruling.
If this Court rules in their favor and dismisses the humane initiative of Proposition 12, it would be simply in the service of mammon and be a serious setback for the ethical and moral progress needed in society today. It would affirm that animals are mere commodities, objects of property and would consequentially condone inhumane production methods.
As a veterinarian with a doctoral degree in ethologist/animal behavior, I can affirm the high degree of sentience and sapience of pigs, a very social species with emotional intelligence and, like most of us, they can be empathic and altruistic. Every good pig farmer and owners of pet pigs know this and it has been well documented how pigs are healthier and more productive when on friendly terms with farm. staff. The attitude of stockpersons and environment in which pigs are raised determine their health and well-being which should not be undermined by profit-driven “economies of scale” evident in the factory farming systems of the pork industry: And which the American Farm Bureau Federation, erroneously believed by many to support the “family farm” unconditionally endorses.
There are multiple, well documented environmental, public health, worker health and safety and animal health reasons to phase out all intensive production systems involving extreme animal confinement in so-called factory farms.
A detailed report on our global impact on the environment, climate, biodiversity in producing food for ourselves shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.—The biomass distribution on Earth Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo PNAS May 21, 2018. 201711842; published ahead of print May 21, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1711842115
See also Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo PNAS July 25, 2017. 114 (30) E6089-E6096; published ahead of print July 10, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1704949114
WORLD HUNGER AND RISING DEMAND FOR MEAT—AND WATER
With rising incomes in developing countries, consumer demand for more meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products is accelerating, as is the proliferation of factory farms or confined animal feeding operation (CAFOs).In their timely review article on the role of the veterinary profession in meeting present and future global food demands, Dr. Alan M. Kelly et al ( See Kelly AM et al. One health, food security and veterinary medicine. JAVMA 242: 739-743, 2013) highlight some disturbing facts and trends, notably: A US government-sponsored $3.5 billion global hunger and food security initiative—the USAID Feed the Future program— does not have one veterinarian in a permanent staff position; population trends mean 1 million additional infants every week for the next 40 years will need food; approximately 1 billion people currently suffer from chronic hunger and 17,000 rural and urban children die of hunger every day; one third of total world food production is lost or wasted during processing, marketing and consumption steps; a rising middle class is driving the Livestock Revolution and proliferation of intensive systems of production (CAFOs); where livestock are raised by the poor, there are 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths from zoonotic diseases transmitted from the animals.
Without more enlightened dietary choices for the rising middle class in developing countries, the proliferation of CAFOs and upsurge in consumption of animal produce and highly processed foods will mean a rising incidence of so-called Western diet-related diseases, and also of food-born illnesses and zoonotic diseases without costly oversight and correctives. The emphasis, until recently, of employing veterinary science, vaccines and pharmaceuticals to primarily to boost livestock productivity in the developed world is now being adopted in developing countries with potentially catastrophic public health, animal health and welfare and environmental consequences. Such developments will mean economic triage for the poor, further marginalized by a rising middle class demanding more meat, eggs and dairy products and the natural resources needed to meet these market demands.
A looming worldwide water shortage may force us all to become vegetarians by 2050, according to a new study ( Jägerskog, A., Jønch Clausen, T. (eds.) 2012. Feeding a Thirsty World – Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future. Report Nr. 31. SIWI, Stockholm.). The world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages. Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to this report. “There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations,” this report by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) asserts. A meat-based diet consumes five to ten times more water than a largely vegetarian diet, and with one-third of the world’s arable cropland already used to grow feed for animals, the world simply doesn’t have enough resources to continue that trend for the two billion or so new mouths expected to be needing food by 2050.
In entering the complex global industrial food production system to endeavor to improve the health, productivity and welfare of farmed animals, the veterinary and allied professions are on the horns of ecologist Garrett Hardin’s altruistic dilemma. ( See Hardin G. The Limits of Altruism: An Ecologist’s View of Survival. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977). The road to hell is paved with good intentions especially when the hidden costs or ‘externalities’ of intensified food animal production and their long-term consequences cause greater harm than good, especially to the rural poor, landless and disenfranchised indigenous people, and to environmental quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Be it misguided altruism, or pecuniary interests as some critics see it, that drives Bill Gates and his ‘philanthropic’ Foundation to promote and fund mass vaccination schemes and high-input genetically engineered (GMO) crops, the fact remains that where there is no vision, the people shall perish.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than 165 million children, a quarter of children under the age of 5 worldwide, are stunted physically and immunologically and mentally impaired because of pre-and postnatal malnutrition. According to this 2013 UN report, 61.7 million, or 48% of all children in India are stunted. Ironically, India is now leads the U.S. and Argentina as the world’s leading exporter of beef (from buffalo). It is indeed a tragedy that animals must suffer the consequences of our increasing numbers and appetites. But with a clearer and practical vision of one health, all involved could indeed help serve the greater good for generations to come if short-term profits are not the driving force, and those with the money make more enlightened dietary choices.
Tegtmeier, EM and Duffy, ME 2004 External costs of agricultural production in the United States. International Journal of Agriculture Sustainability 2(1):2-20.
National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, Putting Meat on the Table; at http://www.ncifap.org/_images/PCIFAPSmry.pdf.
. CDC, Overweight and Obesity Data and Statistics; at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data.
. FAO, More people than ever are victims of hunger (2009); at www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/docs/ Press%20release%20june-en.pdf.
FARMED ANIMAL WELFARE CONCERNS: A SYNOPSIS
Because it stood by and did nothing other than eagerly offer professional advice and services, organized veterinary medicine in most all industrialized countries is in large part responsible for the suffering of billions of intensively raised farm animals on so called factory farmed and feedlots. Farmed animal health, behavioral and welfare issues associated with these food animal production methods, ( now referred to by the industry as confinement animal feeding operations or CAFOs), were seen as a challenge rather than as symptoms of husbandry systems and practices that were bioethically unacceptable and should never exist. But they soon spread to developing countries under the support of agencies like the World Bank and British Overseas Development Corporation which are linked with multinational agribusiness interests, from livestock feed, drugs and vaccines to breeding stock and vertically integrated market monopolies.
I have visited these animal concentration camps and documented the suffering, stress and distress of poultry, pigs and cattle, including dairy cows, beef cattle and veal calves under conditions that deprive them of their basic behavioral needs and of any quality of life, all in the name of profit and ‘production efficiencies’ that are touted as reducing consumer costs.
It took over 25 years since the publication of my book Farm Animals: Husbandry, Behavior and Veterinary Practice (Baltimore, Maryland, University Park Press, 1984), along with the reports by others documenting the connections between CAFOs, animal diseases and related public health and environmental concerns for the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health to acknowledge these connections and to begin to work together to find solutions. (See www.oie.int/eng/press/en_100422.htm).
Organized veterinary medicine in Europe and North America has begun to rally (too little too late?), one editorial in the British Veterinary Record , (June 5th, 2010, p 702) noting “The concept of ‘one world, one health, one medicine’ has so much to commend it that it is surprising that it has not caught on more quickly”. I find it not surprising considering the denial of the evils of CAFOs and the gulling of consumers into believing that this is the way modern farming is done to make food affordable and to feed the hungry world.
Such unconscionable mistreatment of sentient beings is a sad reflection of our own lack of humanity which cannot be justified even if these animals were bred and raised simply for human consumption and knew no better life prior to their slaughter. It underscores the truism that when we harm others we harm ourselves.
The following is a brief synopsis of the major health and welfare concerns that can only be rectified not by strict ‘humane’ standards, inspections and enforcement, but by the phasing out of all such methods of animal production, and the adoption of husbandry systems that provide for animals’ physical and behavioral needs and that are ecologically integrated with sustainable farming practices.
Caged Laying Hens: Extreme overcrowding, lack of movement induced osteoporosis, bone fractures, foot lesions from wire floor, feather-picking and cannibalism.
Broiler Chickens: Extreme overcrowding, lameness, breast blisters, feather picking and cannibalism, ‘keel-over’ heart-failure from rapid growth. Eye problems, including blindness, from poor ventilation.
Penned Piglets: Overcrowding, boredom, tail-biting, cannibalism, lameness and foot lesions from a life on concrete slatted floors. Circulation and joint problems from rapid growth and large body mass . Chronic respiratory problems from poor ventilation.
Breeding Sows in crates: Extreme physical constraint,(unable to walk or turn around), lameness, arthritis, boredom and stereotypic behaviors indicative of stress and distress.
Veal Calves in crates: Extreme physical constraint, (unable to walk or turn around), social deprivation, iron-deficient diet causing anemia and weakness.
Feedlot Beef Cattle: Exposure-lack of shade and shelter, lameness and foot rot, liver disease from improper ‘fattening/finishing’ diets and lack of roughage.
Confined Dairy Cows: lack of exercise related lameness, metabolic, and liver diseases from high energy/concentrate diets and lack of roughage.
All the above concentrated animal feeding operations cause stress, distress, and increased disease susceptibility especially to enteric and respiratory infections, and to udder/mammary gland infections in dairy cows.
The following procedures need to be addressed and where appropriate, either phased out, or only the most humane methods permitted: Castrating, branding, and dehorning cattle without anesthetic; hot-iron de-beaking of chickens; disposal of unwanted chickens & pre-slaughter collecting and handling of poultry; tail docking and castration of piglets and lambs; tail docking of dairy cows; treatment of unwanted ‘bobby’ calves and ‘downer cows;’ and of sick and injured poultry and piglets. Use of the ‘Stock-still’ electrical immobilization of cattle should be prohibited. Humane methods for the mass ‘depopulating/killing of diseased livestock and poultry also need to be implemented.
Livestock and poultry transportation, handling, and slaughter methods need significant improvements in most counties. Dairy and beef cattle fed rations high in cereal grains are prone to acidosis, digestive and metabolic problems, and lameness from laminitis. Such diets create ideal conditions for the proliferation of E. coli 0157, thus putting consumers at risk (also from crops contaminated with infected manure and slurry run-off). Feeding a more natural, grass or hay-based diet results in a drastic reduction in E.coli 0157 within a few days. Regardless, Pfizer drug company began marketing a potentially high risk E.coli 0157 vaccine to the cattle industry in 2010, seeking to capitalize on yet another anthropogenic zoonosis.
Cruel, intensive confinement systems of livestock and poultry production, —concentrated/confined animal feeding operations, —are a legacy of our inhumanity. The price of CAFOs include major public health problems associated with the wholesale use of antibiotics to help these animals grow and be productive and stay alive, leading to the rise of highly resistant strains of bacteria. They cause widespread air, surface and groundwater pollution. World- wide, the livestock industry is the leading human-created cause of climate change/global warming.
It is notable that the United Nations Environment Programme’s international panel on climate change released a report on June 2nd, 2010 stating that lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change. (http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/documents/pdf/PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report_Full.pdf) .
As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report. It states: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, says the report. Produce from organically certified and free-range animals, are generally more humanely derived, and with less environmental harm and drug-dependence than similar produce from CAFOs.
On January 28th 2022 the European Union implemented a ban on the use of antibiotics for prophylactic purposes especially by pig producers. In June 2021 the European Commission responded to the End the Cage citizen’s campaign to introduce legislation by 2023 to prohibit sow stalls and farrowing crates and raising laying hens, rabbits, pullets, broiler breeders, layer breeders, quail, ducks and geese and ban force feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras.
Veterinarians’ Well-being: At Risk from Empathy? According to a Feb 13th 2015 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report Vol 64, p 131-132 by Randall J. Nett and associates, “Veterinarians are believed to be at increased risk for suicide compared with the general population.” They sent out a questionnaire that “asked respondents about their experiences with depression and suicidal behavior, and included standardized questions from the Kessler-6 psychological distress scale that assesses for the presence of serious mental illness…. Approximately 6.8% of male and 10.9% of female respondents were characterized as having serious psychological distress… compared with 3.5% of male and 4.4% of female U.S. adults, respectively.”
That they found almost one in 10 U.S. veterinarians might suffer from serious psychological distress and more than one in six might have experienced suicidal ideation since graduation makes me deeply concerned and wonder why. The challenges of diagnosing, treating and preventing various animal maladies coupled with financial constraints in a culture with a schizoid attitude toward animals (ranging from treating them as family members to mere commodities) may be overwhelming at times: And frustrating seeing the same conditions day after day with no significant advances in the prevention of illness and suffering. But above all I believe that veterinarians are generally more empathetic toward animals than most people in the general population. They, along with others on the front lines of animal protection such as animal sheltering and in-field animal rescue and wildlife conservation, take the brunt of society’s use and abuse of animals. This burden of empathy, combined with veterinarians’ clinical knowledge and greater understanding of how their animal patients can suffer, calls for greater public recognition and respect for the many contributions this profession provides for the good of the animals and society both at home and abroad.