Pandemic outbreaks are becoming more prevalent in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), revealing the inherent flaws of industrialized animal farming. When you remove diversity from a farm, you raise the risks of the operation, including the risk of disease.
Prior to CAFOs, when a virus would emerge, some small farms would lose part or all of their animals, but the numbers would be limited. It didn’t explode into a massive epidemic where millions of animals and countless food products are affected across the country, and in some cases around the world.
As noted by online science magazine Nautilus,1 the combination of factory farms and air travel “forms a viral expressway to pandemics.”
Factory Farms Make Food Production Riskier
The first bird flu pandemic emerged in 2005, with repeats in 2006, 2007, and again in 2008, followed by the threat of a swine flu pandemic in 2009, the origin of which was traced to an infected pig in Mexico.
As reported in the featured article,2 the 2009 swine flu virus was also eventually linked to an infected pig in a Chinese slaughterhouse, documented in 2004.
The viral strains were not identical, but close enough for researchers to conclude that the 2009 virus probably evolved through the mixing of gene segments of viruses found in pigs around the world.
When animals (and other foods3) are shipped from one location to another, they bring with them potentially brand new pathogens that can then mingle and mix with local pathogens.
“Most mutant strains are failures. But sometimes a strain is produced through genetic recombination and reassortment that’s more ‘fit’ in the Darwinian sense than either of its ancestors.
The viruses that dwelled inside the 2004 Hong Kong pig and its deadly cousin in Mexico were triple-recombinant. They assembled genes that originated from strains of human, pig, and bird flu together into a single strain,” Nautilus writes.
“Scientists couldn’t pinpoint how H1N1 jumped from swine to humans in 2009. But they do know that once it did, modern air travel became a viral expressway.”
Large-scale factory slaughterhouses magnify the risks, as animals from multiple CAFOs are all processed in one area, allowing infection in a single animal from a single farm to contaminate very large batches of meat — and any number of processed foods into which those contaminated meats are included.
Foodborne Outbreaks Are on the Rise
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella is on the rise in the U.S.4 The agency is currently investigating no less than seven multi-state outbreaks related to contaminated poultry (including live chickens) that have infected more than 300 people.
But chicken isn’t the only food prone to Salmonella. Factory farmed eggs, of course, are a high-risk food in this regard, but so are plant foods.
Even antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present in agricultural soils, typically deposited there via contaminated manure and/or so-called biosolids (toxic sewage waste frequently passed off as organic potting soil)5 — and this is yet another route for harmful bacteria, including drug-resistant strains, into the food system.
In recent weeks there has been a remarkable uptick in foodborne disease outbreaks, affecting a number of foods and nutritional products you normally would not suspect, including:
• Flour. General Mills has voluntarily recalled more than 10 million pounds of flour after it was suspected as the source of Escherichia coli O121(E. coli), which has sickened 38 people in 20 states. Ten of them required hospitalization.6
The recall includes three brands of flour: Gold Medal, Gold Medal Wondra and Signature Kitchens, sold at Safeway, Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Shaws, Vons, United Supermarkets, Randalls and Acme retailers.
• Sunflower seeds. Listeria-contaminated sunflower seeds have led to the recall of about 100 different food products, including Brown & Haley Mountain Thins trail mix and more than 33,600 pounds of Trader Joe’s’ broccoli and kale chicken salad.7
Drug-Resistant Bacterial Gene Is Spreading Around the World as Anticipated
Add to this the fact that E. coli carrying the drug-resistant mcr-1 gene has now been detected in the U.S., and the situation can be considered dire indeed.
The shareable DNA also contains seven other genes that confer resistance against other antibiotics.
What makes mcr-1 such a unique threat is the fact that the rate of DNA transfer between different types of bacteria is exceptionally high and rapid, suggesting bacteria of all kinds can quickly and easily become resistant to all available antibiotics (pan resistance).
Moreover, the researchers who found the gene warned it would likely spread to bacteria worldwide,12,13 and that’s exactly what we’re seeing. Originally detected in China in 2015, within months it was found in the blood of a Danish patient.
It was also found in five poultry samples purchased in Denmark that were imported from Germany between 2012 and 2014.14 Then just last month, the gene was found in a U.S. slaughterhouse sample (pork) and an American patient admitted with an E. coli infection.15,16,17
When you consider the frequency with which foodborne outbreaks occur, the knowledge that any given outbreak may involve a pan resistant bacteria is truly food for thought, if not cause for change.
Could Chicken Virus Promote Obesity?
In related news, research suggests certain chicken viruses may have the unexpected effect of causing obesity in infected humans. A 1997 study18 found that 1 out of 5 obese people tested positive for the presence of a chicken virus called SMAM-1.
Surprisingly, these people weighed on average 33 pounds more than obese people who tested negative for the virus. According to Dr. Michael Greger, director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States, and blogger at NutritionFacts.org:19
“SMAM-1 was the first chicken virus to be associated with human obesity, but not the last … [H]uman adenovirus Ad-36, a human obesity-associated virus first associated with obesity in chickens and mice … spreads quickly from one chicken to another via nasal, oral or fecal excretion and contamination, causing obesity in each chicken. This, of course, raises serious concerns about Ad-36-induced adiposity in humans …
The virus appears to both increase the number of fat cells by mobilizing precursor stem cells and increase the accumulation of fat within the cells. If we take liposuction samples of fat from people, the fat cell precursors turn into fat cells at about five times the rate in people who came to the liposuction clinic already infected. Fat taken from non-infected people that was then exposed to the virus start sucking up fat at a faster rate, potentially inducing obesity without increasing food intake.”
Barring the unethical testing on humans by infecting them with the virus, it’s difficult to prove that a chicken virus might cause a person to become obese. Indirect evidence and population studies, however, suggest about 15 percent of the U.S. population carry the obesity-promoting Ad-36 virus, and a research team in Taiwan that followed 1,400 Hispanic men and women for 10 years found that those infected did indeed gain more weight than their uninfected peers.20
UV Light Helps Combat Pathogens
The food and medical industries tend to combat harmful bacteria primarily through the use of antibiotics, but that strategy is directly responsible for putting us in this situation in the first place. Misuse of these drugs has spawned antibiotic-resistant bacteria that now kill an estimated 23,000 Americans each year. By 2050, the death toll from drug-resistant infections is expected to reach 10 million a year worldwide.
There are alternatives, but they must be widely implemented. And fast. UV light, for example, especially blue light, acts as a potent environmental disinfectant that could potentially be used both in medicine and food production. Research has found UV light can:
- Reduce the spread of tuberculosis in hospital wards and waiting rooms by 70 percent21,22
- Help kill 90 percent of drug-resistant bacteria in hospital rooms23
- Kill drug-resistant strains of Staph and Enterococcus faecalis (E. faecalis) in as little as five seconds24
- Disinfect water without the addition of other harsh chemicals25
Most recently, researchers found that so-called “far-UVC light” (UV light with a wavelength of around 200 nanometers) kills methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).26
The far-UVC wavelength cannot penetrate deeply enough into the human skin or eye to do any damage. It can however penetrate bacterial cells, due to their smaller size. The researchers are now investigating whether far-UVC may work in a clinical setting, with the hopes of being able to decrease hospital-acquired infections, which currently affect 1 in 25 hospital patients.
Researchers have also discovered it makes antibiotic drugs 1,000 times more effective and may even allow an antibiotic to successfully combat otherwise antibiotic-resistant bacteria.27,28 For at-home wound care, you may want to consider stocking a bottle of silver, which has potent antimicrobial effects.29,30,31,32,33
A 2010 study found colloidal silver effectively killed drug-resistant Staph, E. coli, Salmonella, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa,34 the latter of which typically occurs in hospitals and in people with weakened immune systems.35 Researchers have even found that using silver nanoparticles in food packaging can help prevent proliferation of foodborne pathogens such as Listeria.36,37
Diversification and Decentralization Is the Solution
In the long term, regenerative and local agriculture is the answer to these food safety issues, as well as many other problems. While it may not be the easiest solution to implement, it’s the best and most logical solution. By shifting back to smaller farms that serve their local community, you dramatically increase food safety by reducing the number of animals and people that could possibly be affected by any given outbreak.
Regenerative agriculture also does away with most drugs, as they’re not necessary in a well-designed system that supports rather than challenges the health of the animals, plants and soil. Some people question whether regenerative or organic agriculture would be economically viable, or whether that might make food insecurity even worse by raising food prices too high.
According to industrial agriculture insider John Ikerd, who has a Ph.D. in agricultural economics, neither of these concerns are particularly valid.
He insists that while transitioning over to a more sustainable type of food system may result in farm cost increases of 8 to 12 percent, the actual price you pay for the food would only rise about 2 percent — a small price to pay when you compare it to the possibility of contracting pan-resistant food poisoning, like E. coli or Salmonella poisoning for which NO drug will work.
Together We Can Create Safer, More Sustainable Food Systems
You can help steer the agricultural industry toward safer, more regenerative systems by supporting your local farmers and choosing fresh, local produce over “cheap” conventional varieties commonly sold in larger grocery chains.
You can also slash your food bill by focusing on locally grown foods that are in season, typically a bargain at that time of year, or by growing some of your own. Remember to choose organic, grass-fed/pasture-raised beef, poultry, and dairy, in addition to organic produce.
While many grocery stores now carry organic foods, it’s preferable to source yours from local growers whenever possible, as much of the organic food sold in grocery stores is imported. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:
EatWild.com provides lists of certified organic farmers known to produce safe, wholesome and raw dairy products as well as grass-fed beef and other organic produce. Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass-fed products.
|✓ Weston A. Price Foundation
Weston A. Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.
|✓ Grassfed Exchange
The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass-fed meats across the U.S.
|✓ Local Harvest
This website will help you find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably-grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
|✓ Farmers Markets
A national listing of farmers markets.
|✓ Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals
The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
|✓ Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
|✓ FoodRoutes Network
The FoodRoutes Network “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.
|✓ The Cornucopia Institute
The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products, and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO “organic” production from authentic organic practices.
If you’re still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF)38 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.39 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.