Proper sanitation is essential, whether it’s in your kitchen or at the water treatment facility. Lapses can result in serious health consequences. The changing face of agriculture may pose another threat. The combination of rising livestock numbers and the increase in factory farms can fuel another trend with more harmful effects.
The State of Farming
The agriculture industry has changed dramatically since 1900. The average farm has gone from just over 100 acres to nearly 500 acres. Whereas one time over 50 percent of the population lived on farms, the majority lives in urban areas. There has also been a shift in the number and makeup of farms.
In 1900, there were nearly six million farms in the United States. By 1997, that number dwindled to less than two million. While the number has declined, the size of farms has increased. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 80 percent of livestock are raised on so-called factory farms.
The Risks of Factory Farms
When animals live in these settings, sanitation becomes a big issue. A study by Sigrun J. Hauge of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science assessed the risk factors in slaughterhouses. Hauge found that three to five percent of livestock transported to these facilities were so soiled as to be classified as high-risk animals in terms of their potential to carry disease, particularly, E. coli.
It only takes on infected animal to increase the risk of disease spread not only at the slaughterhouse, but in the meat that consumers will eventually consume. The rise of factory farms may heighten the chances of foodborne diseases simply because of the livestock numbers. Increasing antibiotic use is not necessarily a viable solution, because it may cause a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Adding to the risks is the carbon footprint of factory farms. Larger farms require the increased use of machinery, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Crops for livestock feed store less carbon dioxide per acre, which adds to its burden.
These facts make a strong case for grass-fed beef and smaller operations. In factory farms, disease may be unavoidable. However, raising livestock in a more humane fashion may negate the added costs versus the human health impacts of factory farms.