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Phasing Out Factory Farming Would Be a Boon to Animal and Human Health, and the Environment

Foot and Mouth Disease has now spread to many countries throughout Europe at lightning speed, resulting in the destruction of thousands of herds of cows, pigs and sheep. The economic and social losses to farmers and rural communities are staggering and still mounting. There are important lessons to be learned from this crisis about the foods we eat and how we produce them.

For the last few decades, some European countries and the United Sates have rushed to adopt the factory farm approach - crowding cows, chickens, pigs and fish into smaller barns, pens or feedlots and feeding them larger doses of antibiotics and hormones to create artificially high rates of weight gain. While this factory farm model has long been criticized as cruel and inhumane, only recently have we begun to understand the wide range of negative effects and how quickly problems can spread. For example, the long-distance transport of both the animals and the resulting meat and fish products required by this factory-style model has greatly increased the spread of a number of diseases - from Foot and Mouth to bovine tuberculosis to swine fever. The backbone of the industrial livestock system is the force feeding of a variety of questionable items, like ground-up diseased animals and very high levels of antibiotics. Two clear results of this include Mad Cow-type diseases and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial diseases.

We can to learn from the experiences in Europe about how to handle the short-term impacts, we can also learn from their longer-term thinking. These diseases provide an opportunity to reconsider the industrial food model in the U.S.