Pigs on a factory farm in cages - World Animal Protection

Deadly superbugs found in waterways next to cruel factory farms


Public rivers and streams next to factory farms in Canada, Spain, Thailand and the USA – where animals suffer a lifetime of misery to become food – have been found to contain antibiotic resistance genes that are dangerous to people’s health, according to our new research

Chickens crammed together on factory farm - World Animal Protection - Animals in farming

The first multi-country investigation of its kind, ‘Silent superbug killers in a river near you’, found powerful antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) downstream from factory farms.

Leaking into surrounding environments

This suggests factory farms could be discharging antibiotic resistance genes and superbugs into the wider environment, as a result of pig waste being spread on fields and leeching into public waterways.

Water testing near a factory farm - World Animal Protection

Water testing near a factory farm

Animals on factory farms are cruelly caged, painfully mutilated and babies are ripped from their mothers at a young age causing unthinkable suffering. Routine antibiotic use masks animal suffering on factory farms and prevents stressed animals from getting sick.

ARGs are the building blocks of superbugs that emerge due to antibiotic overuse, causing contamination of our environment and food chain.

Worse than Covid-19?

The superbug crisis poses a threat that could eclipse the Covid-19 pandemic. Already, more than 700,000 people die each year from superbugs where antibiotics are ineffective in treating infections.

Alarmingly, up to 10 million people are expected to die from superbugs each year by 2050.

Our investigation found ARGs resistant to antibiotics which are of most concern to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

These antibiotics are the last line of defence to keep patients alive when other treatment for conditions like respiratory infections has failed.   

Factory farms not following WHO recommendations

The WHO recommends that antibiotics should not be routinely used to prevent disease across groups of farm animals. Despite this, the practice remains widespread on cruel factory farms with as much as 75% of the world’s antibiotics used on farm animals.

Bottles with water from waterways near factory farms to be tested - World Animal Protection

Bottles holding water from waterways surrounding factory farms

Jacqueline Mills, Head of Farming, at World Animal Protection, said:

"The factory farming industry is playing Russian roulette with people’s lives by routinely and carelessly using antibiotics, which is fueling the rise in dangerous superbugs.

"Pigs and the other 50 billion animals that are factory farmed each year suffer unthinkable cruelty, but there is a better way. We need to put an end to the worst abuses of animals in factory farms and stop using antibiotics across groups of animals to prevent sickness.

"We can see an end to cruel factory farming in our lifetime. No new factory farms should be built. Instead, the food industry needs to embrace a humane and sustainable future: predominantly plant-based diets, and remaining farm animals in genuinely high welfare systems where they can have good lives."

Devastating effects on local people

We also interviewed people from local communities to gauge their experiences and firsthand accounts. Many complained about the farms but were too afraid to speak out.

One smallholder farmer in Thailand, who wished to remain anonymous, said:

"Rice doesn’t grow the way it should when the farms release the water to the field. Some rice crops are damaged and some just die. Fish can’t also live in the pond, it’s actually the whole ecosystem in this area. I used to complain about this, but nothing has happened."

Chickens crammed together on factory farm - World Animal Protection - Animals in farming

Chickens crammed together on a factory farm

Another resident, known as Rosa, who lives in the Aragon region in Spain, said:

"Without water there is no future, and here we don’t have any water to spare. These villages will not survive if you cannot open the windows, or be outside or walk, if you cannot drink the tap water, or if we lose our great attraction, which is the landscapes and tranquility.

"The meat lobby is very powerful, and the profit of a few companies is taking precedence over public health."

Positive change in the EU

From January 2022, it will be illegal in the European Union to administer antibiotics across groups of farm animals to prevent disease, and it is important these laws are enforced, and other countries should follow suit.

We’re calling for governments to ban the use of antibiotics to prevent disease across groups of farm animals and to ensure that remaining factory farms meet FARMS animal welfare standards at a minimum.

The meat lobby is very powerful, and the profit of a few companies is taking precedence over public health.

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