By Sharon Atieno

Despite intensive farming systems being responsible for more than half of zoonotic infections such as swine flu, bird flu and others that have moved from animals to humans, it is laying foundation for antimicrobial resistance, a public health threat.

700,000 people die annually due to antimicrobial resistance, and by 2050, the number would rise to 10 million people.

Speaking during the launch of a report titled: Fuelling the pandemic crisis: Factory farming and the rise of superbugs, Dr. Victor Yamo, Farming campaigns manager at World Animal Protection (WAP) said that antibiotics are the silent props of factory farming systems, preventing stressed, confined animals from getting sick in the dismal conditions they live in.

“Currently, seventy five percent (75%) of all antibiotics produced globally are used in farming and there is ample science showing how antibiotic overuse on factory farms is leading to antibiotic resistant organisms (Superbugs) which are spreading to the farm workers, the environment and into the food chain ultimately getting to the consumers and the general public,” he said.

A study conducted by WAP found Superbugs in the food chain in Brazil, Spain, Thailand and United States. A review of research work done on the African food chain has confirmed that the situation is not any different here. Superbugs make antibiotics less effective in treating sick people there by having the potential of triggering a global health crisis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that we could reach a stage where we have organisms resistant to all antibiotics because of the superbug crisis – a post-antibiotic era. This means commonplace ailments could suddenly become dangerous, perhaps impossible to treat because of bacterial resistance to the available antibiotics.

With factory farming being characterised with practices such as close confinement, barren environments, routine mutilations and fast growth rates; WAP says there is need to relook this farming system to make it become sensitive to the welfare of animals.

“ An animal whose welfare is catered for will produce better and will not get sick because the immunity is at the right space and that ultimately leads to less antibiotics being used in the production,” Dr. Yamo said.

A WHO-funded study shows that restricting antibiotic use in food-producing animals leads to a reduction in the presence of superbugs in these animals which in turn, is associated with up to 24% lower superbugs in the human population.

In the report, WAP recommends the ending of factory farming and moving to a more sustainable food system in order to address the current superbug threat and reduce the risk of the next pandemic crisis coming from farm animals.

In order to achieve, this WAP is calling for concerted action from the global retail, finance and animal production sectors; governments and intergovernmental organizations to come together to phase out factory farming.

Dr. Yamo further adds that “Stopping this cruel and inefficient system dependent on antibiotic overuse is vital to improve animal welfare and protect animal health, people’s health and ultimately the global economies from the impact of future pandemics.”

So far, 90 countries prohibit the use of antibiotics to promote fast growth in farm animals but only 6 prohibit the use of antibiotics to prevent diseases.