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How Factory Farming Harms People, Planet and Animals

What drives antimicrobial resistance around the globe

A Lancet Planetary Health ecological country-level study of the human-animal interface

International Travel and Trade Join Antimicrobial Use in Humans and Animals as Key Drivers of AMR


Rising antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a significant global health threat, with an estimated 1.27 million deaths attributable to bacterial AMR in 2019. The indiscriminate use of antimicrobials in both human and animal populations is a primary driver of AMR.

"In 2017, an estimated 93,309 tonnes of antibiotics were sold for use in food-producing animals globally. This figure is projected to reach 104,079 tonnes by 2030." The increasing demand for meat products and over-the-counter sales, especially in low-income and middle-income countries, has contributed to the growing antibiotic use
Source: Global antimicrobial-resistance drivers: an ecological country-level study at the human-animal interface

Why drives antibiotic use within factory farming?

  1. The trend has been that as global populations grow and become more economically developed, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), the demand for meat and animal-derived products increases, leading to higher antibiotic use in food-producing animals.
  1. Easy access to over-the-counter antibiotics in some regions can contribute to the excessive use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, as these drugs are often administered without proper oversight or veterinary guidance.
  1. In many cases, antibiotics are used to promote growth and prevent diseases in animals raised in confined and stressful environments, which can be conducive to the spread of infections. This increased use of antibiotics in intensive farming practices can contribute to the overall rise in antibiotic demand within animal agriculture.
  1. Insufficient regulation: In some countries, regulations and enforcement mechanisms related to the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture may be lacking or inadequate, leading to increased and uncontrolled use of these drugs.

Why should we care? - Antibiotics are well regulated here in the UK?

Although this study shows that good regulation does help reduce AMR or as the report puts it

Antibiotic consumption in animals was positively associated with rates of third generation cephalosporins-resistant E coli  (OR 1·09 [95% CI 1·01–1·19]; p=0·041), oxacillin-resistant S aureus (1·11 [1·01–1·21]; p=0·023), and carbapenem-resistant A baumanii  (1·24 [1·12–1·37]; p<0·0001). Governance indicators (e.g., the rule of law, voice and accountability, regulatory quality, and control of corruption) and countries’ policies to monitor and control AMR were consistently associated with lower AMR.

The whole point of the study is to show that international travel and trade also play a significant role and hence the need for a global, cooperative approach in tackling AMR, and that as AMR leads to increased deaths, health complications, and higher health expenditures in all countries, regardless of socioeconomic status.


What factors positively affected AMR and which are related to factory farming


Of 23 factors, 12 are positively associated with AMR and of those 6 were directly or indirectly associated with Animal Agriculture.

Relationship if not obvious with Factory Farming
Arable land (percentage of land area)
Percentage of land area that is under temporary crops, temporary meadows for mowing or for pasture, land under market or kitchen gardens, and land temporarily fallow, 2018
Cattle density
Global distribution of cattle expressed in total number of cattle per pixel (5 minute of arc), 201050,51
Cardiovascular death rate per 100 000
Annual number of deaths per 100 000 people due to cardiovascular disease in 2017
Obesity prevalence
Crude prevalence of obesity in adults (BMI ≥30 kg/m2), 2016
Mortality rate attributable to unsafe WASH
Deaths attributable to unsafe WASH focusing on inadequate WASH services, expressed per 100 000 population
Annual mean concentration of PM2·5 (micrograms of gaseous pollutant per cubic meter of ambient air μg/m3) in urban areas (2016)

More broadly, several factors were associated with an increase in AMR:

  1. Carbapenem and cephalosporin consumption in humans
  1. Antibiotic consumption in food-producing animals
  1. Cardiovascular death rate
  1. GINI index (a measure of income inequality) - this is has not been widely understood till now.
  1. PM2.5 (a measure of air pollution)

The analysis indicated that these factors were positively associated with AMR, meaning that as these factors increased, AMR also tended to increase. The study's model accounted for 86.4% of the variation in AMR (R2 value). For example, a change of one standard deviation in PM2.5 (air pollution) resulted in a 1.11 standard deviation increase in critical human pathogen AMR, suggesting that higher air pollution levels contribute to a greater risk of AMR. Here is table making that point in more detail.


In summary

One map shows that although antibiotic consumption in animals in a country is not directly correlated with Antibiotic resistance in any simple sense , as discussed, its a complex of factors. However there is some extremely concerning situations

  • China has both maximum usage of antibiotics and AMR resistance and is a major exporter of animals products.
  • India, though not as severe as China in AMR resistance is a major exporter of animal products around the globe
  • South America has concerning rates of AMR and is also a large source of animal products.
  • Although North America has low levels of AMR its consumption of antibiotics is some of the highest in the world - and it is a significant exporter of beef, pork and poultry livestock as well as animal products

But it is a science paper.

It wouldn’t be a science paper if it didn’t hedge its bets and suggest more research or monitoring; this is no different.

Reduced rates of antibiotic consumption alone will not be sufficient to combat the rising worldwide prevalence of AMR. Control methods should focus on poverty reduction and aim to prevent AMR transmission across different One Health domains while accounting for domain-specific risk factors. The levelling up of livestock surveillance systems to better match those reporting on human AMR, and, strengthening all surveillance efforts, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries, are pressing priorities.

Can’t we just say the obvious?

Factory farms do more harm than good. Although, as CIWF points out though the routine use of antibiotics was outlawed in the EU in 2018, it appears that the UK government has not followed suit. And as the NRDC shows it remains a major problem in the US. Even if antibiotics are not explicitly used to promote growth, they will still be routinely used when economics necessitates high packing densities of stressed animals during a pandemic, the worst incidents of avian flu in history, bovine pneumonia, etc. This raises the question of whether factory farming is necessary and if something offsets the suffering caused by it, including the suffering that widespread antibiotic resistance would bring. The answer is obviously no. The only solution is to end factory farming.


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