Why It’s So Hard to Prevent Disease Outbreaks on Factory Farms


by Devatha P. Nair, Sentient Media

January 10, 2022


Nair is a vegan, freelance writer, and materials science researcher


A newly-born litter of piglets is piled into cramped pens, where farmworkers administer the first in a series of vaccinations and booster shots. The blood of the small, frightened piglets receiving the drugs spurts over the dirty floors of a high-density hog farm. Over the next six months, the piglets will be subjected to an array of vaccinations aimed at keeping them healthy, but not in the traditional sense.


On an industrial pig farm, the term ‘healthy’ takes on a new meaning. In addition to preventing disease outbreaks, the vaccines are used to maximize the piglets’ daily weight gain and help them reach slaughterhouses as quickly and efficiently as possible. But while more healthy pigs are good news for farmers and their balance sheets, animal advocates say the use of vaccines in livestock production has more to do with maximizing profits and less to do with animal welfare.


Losing farmed animals to disease used to be a cost of doing business. However, the rapid expansion of industrialized animal agriculture over the past few decades has exacerbated the problem: crowding millions of stressed-out animals into cramped, filthy spaces drastically reduces their immunity and makes them vulnerable to diseases and the spread of diseases. Now, the rise of industrial animal agriculture is causing an unprecedented increase in disease outbreaks on factory farms across the globe.


Disease outbreaks on factory farms are controlled in large part by a crude method of population control called culling, in which large numbers of infected and uninfected animals are rounded up and killed using mass-killing methods such as gassing, shutting off the ventilation into barns, or suffocation with foam. In 2001, the United Kingdom responded to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease by hastily slaughtering over 6 million pigs, sheep, and cattle. Widespread culling also occurred in an attempt to contain the emergence of the H5N1 avian flu in 2005, but the approach failed. The avian flu, an affliction that used to occur in wild birds, has now become a frequent occurrence in poultry farming operations. Since the virus was first discovered, it has crossed interspecies barriers and remains a significant pandemic threat for humans...


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