Intensive livestock farming provides more food, but increases the risk of the next pandemic

As the climate changes and the world’s population increases, more and more efficient food must be produced. Meat is often looked to for its nutrients and the potential to rapidly intensify this sector. However, this has several drawbacks, says a new analysis published in the scientific journal science progress.

Global warming is putting food security under pressure, forcing countries to produce food more efficiently. To meet current and future needs, the agricultural industry proposes “intensification”: more use of machinery, hormones and antibiotics, while increasing production.

In the short term, such an approach may have benefits, such as reduced deforestation, but the long-term risks will actually increase, according to a new analysis published in the journal science progress. Researcher Matthew Hayek points out, among other things, an increased risk of increasing epidemics as a result of zoonotic diseases, and diseases transmitted by animals.


The solution to the food problem often cited by the agricultural sector aims to increase meat production through a more efficient use of resources, which then leads to intensive livestock farming. Because animals are kept in confined spaces, this increases the risk of spreading zoonotic diseases such as bird flu.

“As long as global consumption of meat continues to rise, it is likely that both climate change and epidemics will continue to increase.”

“As long as global consumption of meat continues to rise, it is likely that climate change – from deforestation and methane emissions – and epidemics will continue to increase,” said Matthew Hayek, a study co-author at New York University. He studied more than a hundred articles dealing with the effects of intensified livestock farming on the environment and on zoonoses.

It concludes that short-term intensification can reduce the need for animal feed and land use. Animals do not need to move around and therefore gain weight faster if they are placed in intensive facilities, rather than being left roaming and grazing in the open ground. In the short term, this method of meat production has benefits: it can reduce deforestation, preserve wildlife habitat and provide a barrier against diseases transmitted from those wild animals.

On the other hand, condensation means a higher chance of contracting diseases for animals that live close to each other.

pigs and chickens

“This method of animal husbandry, which is used mostly for pigs and chickens, allows diseases to spread and mutate rapidly among many thousands of animals in a single facility,” explains Hayek.

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Furthermore, the research reveals that raising chickens requires three times more antibiotics and 170 times more animals to produce the same amount of meat as raising livestock, which increases the risk of diseases such as bird flu (bird flu) and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. .

Policy can help accelerate the shift to plant-based options by making plant-based options more accessible, affordable and attractive.

Hayek argues that shifting meat consumption from beef to chicken could benefit the climate, but pose the risk of the “rapid spread of epidemic diseases.”


In this way, according to him, the consumption of meat creates a “trap”: on the one hand, something can be said to enhance the free range of animals, but then the habitats of wild animals should give way more, on the other hand. On the other hand, the intensive confinement of animals in a limited space as a result, there is a greater risk of disease.

“To prevent both climate change and costly epidemics at the same time, we need to rapidly reduce meat consumption, protect forests and improve farm animal health. Policy can help accelerate the shift to plant-based choices by transforming our food landscape and making plant-based choices more accessible. , affordable and attractive,” Hayek concludes.

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