New UN Report Primes Factory Farming as a Major Cause of Zoonotic Diseases

A UN report published 6 July 2020, shines a light on factory pig farming as a crucible for the mutation of viruses that threaten humanity with potential global pandemics.

“The primary risks for future spill-over of zoonotic diseases are deforestation of the tropical environment and large-scale industrial farming of animals, specifically pigs and chickens at high density.” Preventing the next Pandemic, UNEP

Pigs with access to fresh air, exercise and sunlight rarely need antibiotics and are measurably less susceptible to disease. Let us not forget, the H1N1 virus that caused the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic that killed globally between 250,000 and 500,000 people, originated from intensively farmed pigs in North Carolina. The first human case in the pandemic occurred in La Gloria, Mexico, next to a giant factory pig farm owned by the world’s largest pork producer, US-based Smithfield Foods.

Yesterday, farmers and activists gathered in London to protest the real prospect of sub-standard imports from the US that would threaten the nation’s health and the survival of family farms countrywide. Politicians must act to protect UK farmers by voting to add amendments to the Agriculture Bill that would prevent the import of food produced to lower standards of food safety, environmental protection and animal welfare than those required of UK farmers. Tractors, vans and some loud horns marked the beginning of the #SaveBritishFarming campaign. We interviewed Jyoti Fernandes, who spoke about the lack of trust she, as a farmer and activist, has in the Agricultural Bill as it stands, the repercussions from passing the bill with no amendments, and Liz Truss’s toothless Trade and Agriculture Commission. More interviews can be watched and shared here.

#SaveBritishFarming: Jyoti Fernandes – Land Workers Alliance

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Last May, these Ag Bill amendments were shot down by a tory majority. The UN report SPECIFICALLY supports sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices – something our government is currently failing to do. Please write to your MP to urge them to vote in favour of this amendment to protect British farmers from cheap and nasty imported food.

The UN report also makes a case for land sharing over land sparing. This is a well discussed debate on land use; proponents of land sharing favour lower-intensity agriculture, integrating production and biodiversity provision through practices like organic farming, whereas the land sparing approach considers spatial segregation of intensive agriculture and natural areas. The Sustainable Food Trust have recently written an interesting piece on this. The UN report states:

  • Extensive livestock production systems can provide proteins with environmental co-benefits and reduced zoonotic disease risk
  • Invest in agroecological methods of food production to enhance sustainable coexistence of agriculture and wildlife

Plenty of farmers in the UK share this sentiment. Farmers need political and financial support to shift to an agricultural system that values agro-ecological methods. With the threat of policies that only value free trade and cheap commodities, we are at real risk of slipping into practices that are deeply detrimental to health, the environment and future generations.

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