Goliath Kills Thousands of Dairy Cows

As 2015 drew to a close, a deadly winter weather system raged across the U.S., lashing multiple states with wind and snow. The storm, named Goliath, claimed among its casualties more than 30,000 cows on dairy farms in Texas and New Mexico. As the Weather Channel reports, it is believed that many of the cows suffocated to death when they were pushed against fences by snowdrifts up to 14 feet high. So many cows perished that farmers have struggled to dispose of the bodies.

Though the immediate cause of death for these cows was a natural disaster, the ultimate cause was man-made. As we saw last year in the massive death toll of the 2015 bird flu outbreak and the Ohio highway disaster that killed hundreds of piglets, the animal agriculture industry’s reliance on raising, transporting, and slaughtering animals on a large scale creates the conditions for large-scale tragedy. Designed to maximize output while minimizing costs, this production model prohibits adequate health and safety measures for individual animals. The cows who died in Texas and New Mexico were kept in large numbers on farms where they did not have access to the shelter, dedicated onsite staff, and individual attention that could have saved them from death in the blizzard.

Farm Sanctuary cattle

Farm Sanctuary Shelter Manager Jill checks on herd members to make sure everyone is doing well in the snow.

At Farm Sanctuary, we are committed to the well-being of each and every animal in our care. Cattle at our shelters have access to warm barns at all times. During the winter, staff members diligently monitor and clear the pathways and outdoor areas our animals use to make sure that no one slips and falls. We also make maintain a caregiver-to-resident ratio that allows us to give individual attention to every animal, ensuring that no one is ever left out in the cold. Such precautions are costly, of course, but they are necessary for any operation that truly puts the animals first. On a commercial farm, where profit is the imperative, this sort of individual consideration is unfeasible; animal welfare and animal exploitation are irreconcilable.

It is not only the farmers themselves who place fiscal considerations above the well-being of individual animals. It is the pervasive view of farm animals as mere commodities that allows this industry to operate at all. Take the media coverage of this tragedy, which has emphasized the economic impact of the fatalities, and the resulting drop in the region’s milk production, on producers and consumers. In a society where we consume the bodily products of animals we never meet, a milk shortage will meet with a stronger reaction than will the deaths of 30,000 cows — sensitive, intelligent beings who, as we do, possessed personalities, desires, and fears.

Winter storm Goliath has now subsided, but another Goliath rampages on. The dairy industry, formidably armed with economic and political clout, exploits several million cows and kills approximately 2.5 million “spent” cows every year. Cows on dairy farms are subjected to a grueling cycle of insemination, pregnancy, and milking that leaves them frail and hurting. Their babies are taken away from them at birth, the females to be raised as replacements and the males to be sold at auction for veal or beef production. This is an industry that separates families, squeezes every cent it can from its animals, and discards those animals when they can no longer be milked for profit.

Farm Sanctuary resident DIane cow

At just five years of age, Farm Sanctuary resident Diane cow was considered “spent” and would have been auctioned off and slaughtered had her rescuer not stepped in to save her. Read Diane’s story at AnimalsofFarmSanctuary.com.

Unlike a winter storm, this giant killer of cows and calves is not going away on its own. Along with our allies and supporters, Farm Sanctuary has been fighting on behalf of dairy cows and calves for three decades, and our resolve is as strong as ever. The first step in this fight is one anyone can take: Boycott dairy products. To find out what else you can do, please follow Farm Sanctuary on Facebook and Twitter and visit us at farmsanctuary.org. Together, we can stop this Goliath.

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and Factory Farming

Cattle at a factory farm

You may already know that factory farming creates appalling animal suffering and environmental degradation. But did you know that it also poses a grave threat to our ability to treat serious bacterial infections?

The Majority of Antibiotics We Use are Given to Farm Animals

For decades, factory farms have administered large quantities of antibiotics — drugs designed for the treatment and prevention of bacterial infections — to animals who are not sick. In some cases, these drugs are used as prophylactics, to ward off potential infections. In other cases, the drugs are used to promote growth, hastening animals to their market weight. It is estimated that more than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics, i.e. antibiotics also used in humans, consumed in the U.S. are given to farm animals for non-therapeutic purposes. Worldwide, more than half of all antibiotics used are used on farm animals.

Pigs at a factory farm

The prophylactic use of antibiotics is especially prevalent among intensive farming operations, where crowding, poor living conditions, and a lack of individualized care make animals highly susceptible to infection. The large groups of confined animals on factory farms can become breeding grounds for pathogens, and such zoonotic diseases as salmonella, E. coli, avian influenza, and swine flu have all been linked to the industry. Preemptively administering antibiotics to entire herds or flocks does not eliminate the problem — rather, the practice creates an environment where bacteria can evolve rapidly under the selective pressure of the antibiotics and become resistant to them. By throwing massive quantities of antibiotics at the problem of infection in their herds, farmers are engaged in an arms race they are doomed to lose.

Antibiotic Resistance Is Dangerous for Everyone

According to Statista, drug-resistant infections are rising precipitously. The site reports that, “by 2050, ten million people are set to lose their lives every year unnecessarily unless drastic action is taken to tackle the problem.” As reported by the BBC, a new report from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) has identified antibiotic use on farms as a crucial component of the human health threat.

Infographic: Deaths From Drug-Resistant Infections Set To Skyrocket | Statista
Chart via Statista

The AMR report (PDF) identifies multiple risks created by high antibiotic use, and the consequent evolution of drug-resistant bacteria, in farming: drug-resistant strains of bacteria may be passed directly between animals and humans (primarily farmers); drug-resistant strains may be passed to humans who consume meat and milk from infected animals; and both drug-resistant bacteria and un-metabolized antibiotics may be released into the environment through the animals’ excrement.

Once a resistant strain of bacteria has entered the human population, it has the potential to spread far and wide, infecting individuals regardless of whether or not they have worked with farm animals, come into contact with farm waste, or consumed infected meat and milk. The risk affects everyone.

Chickens at a factory farm

AMR observes that some last-resort antibiotics for humans are used extensively in animal farming. Last-resort antibiotics are those used only when other antibiotics have failed; these highly effective medications are used in this sparing manner in order to limit bacterial exposure to them and thus to stave off the development of resistance. In China, researchers recently found a bacterial gene conferring resistance to the antibiotic Colistin. Potentially damaging to the kidneys, Colistin is used only when a multi-resistant bacteria leaves no other option; due to the worldwide increase in such bacteria, doctors have been increasingly forced to rely on this last resort. Colistin-resistant bacteria have existed for some time, but this latest discovery is especially troubling, because the new gene found by researchers can be easily transferred between different bacteria. The gene appears to have arisen among farm animals and has now been found in human hospital patients.

Factory Farming and Antibiotics Are Inextricably Entangled

The AMR report states: “…we believe that there is sufficient evidence showing that the world needs to start curtailing the quantities of antimicrobials used in agriculture now.” The authors present three proposals for pursing this course of action: 1) establish a global target to reduce antibiotic use in food production to an agreed level and restrict the use of antibiotics that are important for human health; 2) rapidly develop minimum standards to reduce antimicrobial-manufacturing waste released into the environment; and 3) improve surveillance to monitor the problem and the progress toward its solution.

Dairy cows

Though these proposals may begin to address the crisis, they stop far short of a measure that is obvious to any farm animal advocate. Implementing regulations or incentives to reduce antibiotic use in factory farming is treating the symptom, not the disease. The excessive use of antibiotics in factory farming is motivated by the essential nature of the industry, which is based on treating animals as units of mass production. As long as staggering numbers of animals are raised in intensive confinement, these animals will continue to be especially vulnerable to pathogens, and the farms where they live will continue to present a threat to human health. Factory farming is the disease, and ending it is a therapy the world desperately needs.

For all those who view the abolition of factory farming as an extreme measure, the recent reports of accelerating antibiotic resistance should be a wake-up call: The situation is already extreme. We are facing a catastrophic threat to human health, and in these desperate times, the dismantling of industrial agriculture is an eminently sane measure.

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