Factory Farming is a Global Public Health Crisis: Experts Plea to the World Health Organization

Factory Farming is a Global Public Health Crisis: Experts Plea to the World Health Organization
iStock/MilosCirkovic

“Eating animals may have been crucial to our survival in the past. But now, it’s killing us.”

That’s the final note to the World Health Organization in a New York Times op-ed yesterday, published as the organization is set to appoint a new director general this week. The authors, Scott Weathers, Sophie Hermanns, and Mark Bittman, point to the sentiment they share, along with more than 200 global health, biology, policy, and climate research experts, in an open letter sent to the WHO this week, which says industrial animal farming practices undermine the “highest attainable standard of health that is WHO’s mandate.” They’re urging the organization to appoint a new director willing and capable of tackling the issue.

While the World Health Organization has been quick to address numerous issues connected to factory farms, such as chronic diet-related diseases, and the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that kill more than 23,000 Americans every year, the organization has been lax in addressing factory farming head-on.

That’s a disservice to everyone on the planet, says Weathers, Hermanns, and Bittman, as the health and environmental consequences of livestock production can no longer be ignored. More than 50 billion animals are raised for food every year around the globe, not including the fishing industry.

Worldwide meat production has tripled since the 1970s and increased by 20 percent in just the last decade, the Times writers note, and it’s time the WHO recognizes that factory farming “connects the dots” between the numerous health and environmental crises the organization addresses individually.

“Although many previous attempts to tackle factory farming have been largely framed around animal welfare or environmental concerns, we believe that limiting the size and adverse practices of factory farming is also central to improving global health,” the open letter states.

The letter asks WHO to take several steps in addressing the risks connected to factory farming, including recommending that its member nations ban the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in factory farming, eliminate subsidies for factory farms, implement nutritional guidelines and campaigns that directly address the health risks connected to meat consumption, and financially support research and development of plant-based proteins, a category that’s taken off in recent years.

“The harms caused by large-scale, industrial animal farming are global in nature and felt beyond those who consume meat, dairy, and eggs. Climate change does not recognize borders and neither do drug-resistant infectious diseases,” the group states.

“Finding solutions to problems posed by industrial animal farms and shifting us toward more healthful agriculture will therefore require the global leadership of WHO.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.