Compared to small-scale farms, factory farms have conditions that allow many more cases of disease to manifest – in the animals grown on the farm, those that live in surrounding areas and the people who eat the factory farm meat. Factory farm animals live in unhealthy environments, often stuck in a mess of urine, feces and debris without being able to move at all. Combined with an unnatural diet and extreme doses of antibiotics, many animals become diseased and die. Shockingly, these dead animals may end up in rendering plants or slaughterhouses, becoming food for animals or humans and possibly transferring diseases, like the Mad Cow disease. According to the Duke University Law school, disease outbreaks are major problems at factory farms and about 70% of factory farm pigs have pneumonia when they are finally killed. Additionally, the massive amount of waste that is produced at factory farms can seep into the ground, contamining water supplies and affecting wildlife inhabiting places nearby the farms.
Yes, factory farms are home to many more diseases than an open range farm. This is because the animals are housed so close together, the spread of disease is almost inevitable. Aside from having very little room to move, a lack of sunlight, vitamins, and dietary deficiencies all contribute to the development and spreading of disease. Stress also contributes to a weakened immune system, thus making it that much easier for animals to become ill. The air alone in factory farms is enough to make the animals sick – all the dust, ammonia, and other gases from the manure pits.
chelseyzellita and mcoffey provided excellent links about factory farming. The Radford link addressed another very serious issue that was on my mind when I first saw this question. That is the phenomenon of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics. Due to the over-use of antibiotics in factory farms to control disease before it happens, the bacteria strains that do manage to survive mutate and develop resistance to the antibiotics. Without the presence of endless antibiotics, the bacteria find it more advantageous to reproduce with their original genetic codes. However, once a bacteria mutates a piece of genetic material that gives it the ability to resist antibiotics, that strain will multiply and dominate the other bacteria. If antibiotic-resistant bacteria make their way out of the factory farms and into people, that would be an absolute nightmare for the World Health Organization. Most bacteria is killed through pasteurization and/or cooking, but if someone at the factory gets careless, we could all be in big trouble.
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