Diseases and breeding

The production of animal food is undergoing a great transformation on a global scale that could entail an increase of the risk of transmitting diseases from animals to humans (zoonosis). Excessive concentration of heads of cattle in breeding factories should be avoided to limit this risk as well as improving the system for monitoring diseases and preserving public health. Cattle production and density have substantially increased, often in proximity to urban centres, especially with regards to industrial pigs and poultry breeding factories: in industrialized countries, the greatest part of chickens and turkeys is produced in plants that can contein from 15 thousand to 50 thousand animals. The tendency towards industrialization with regards to the zootechnical production can be observed also in developing countries where traditional systems have been substituted by intensive production units, especially in Asia, South America and in some parts of Africa. The concentration of thousands of animals in factories increases the chance of transmission of pathogens. Moreover, great amounts of sewage and manure that can contain a high number of pathogens accumulate in rooms for penned animals. Much of this waste is disposed on the soil with no further treatment exposing thus wild mammals and birds to the risk of infection. Among risk factors for the spreading of illness is the fact that pigs and poultry industrial production is based on an impressive movement of live animals. In 2005, for example, almost 25 million pigs (heads), more than two million per month, were commercialized at an international level. This also as a consequence of the drastic reduction of the number of slaughterhouses per unit area (multinational companies, infact, have bought and merged small family-run slaughterhouses). This has increased the distance from breeding factories and the butchering location increasing the chance of epidemics of viral diseases among animals: cattle is transported to slaughterhouses in awful hygienic conditions and the fast pace of butchering make operators little concerned about operations that could pollute meat (for example, intestine cleansing). In these conditions highly pathogenic diseases develop as swine fever and avian flu (H5N1 virus) and other viruses common among commercial poultry and to a lesser extent among pigs with the risk that these might affect humans and spread rapidly. Meat producers are obliged to apply basic biosafety measures; production sites shouldn’t be built close to human settlements or wild birds populations; factories should be clean and regularly disinfected and involved personnel must receive appropriate training on issues relevant to food safety. In addition to aspects connected to hygiene-sanitary conditions of raised animals it’s crucial to know what they are fed. The so-called “mad cow” disease (BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy) has been caused exactly by uncontrolled nutrition and breeders that have repeatedly fed bovines with infected animal flours, transmitting disease also to animals ready for slaughter. As the disease becomes evident after several months of incubation, infected animals that had become numerous, were commercialized before symptoms were registered and disease spread to humans: infectious protein molecules can be found in bones and bone marrow and survive high cooking temperatures of meat. We shouldn’t forget, with regards to biosafety, that breeders must often resort to intense use of antibiotics to contain the chance of infection in animals that are highly stressed by conditons of overcrowding in fenced areas (actually antibiotics in small doses also make animals gain weight and save on fodder costs). This entails an increase in the resistance to medicines by a group of bacterial strains present in the body of animals that, in turn, makes it more difficult to treat human nutrition diseases transmitted by cattle as antibiotics don’t have effect on bacteria.

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