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November 6, 2023

3 minute read

CDC and HHS Must Address Zoonotic Disease Threats Posed by Factory Farms

Farm Forward welcomed the federal government’s recent request for public guidance on its new “National One Health Framework to Address Zoonotic Diseases and Advance Public Health Preparedness in the United States” (NOHF-Zoonoses), spearheaded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

We submitted a comment we consider critical for addressing zoonotic disease and public health preparedness: factory farming creates perfect petri dishes for endemic and emergent zoonotic diseases. Deintensifying existing poultry and pig farming—while placing a moratorium on new factory farm construction—is the public health measure that would most dramatically reduce the risk of the next pandemic virus. 

With the CDC itself reporting that 3 out of 4 new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, and that bird flu has broken out more than 800 times in 47 states since January 2022, mostly affecting birds in factory farms, it’s critical that the One Health Framework include attention on the issue that will most materially reduce future risk of zoonotic diseases—namely industrial animal agriculture. 

We call on world leaders to bring the age of factory farming to an end.

Here’s the bulk of our comment as submitted to the CDC and HHS:

Given that the NOHF-Zoonoses draft’s Appendix A, the “Prioritized Zoonotic Diseases of National Concern in the United States,” prioritizes “Zoonotic -Influenza” as number one zoonotic disease of concern and “Salmonellosis” as the number two zoonotic disease of concern, any national effort to address zoonotic diseases and advance public health preparedness must include focus on reforming industrial animal agriculture. So including the word “agricultural” in Objective 2.4 and the phrase “animal agriculture” in Objective 5.2 is essential.

Industrial pig and poultry farms are the United States’ top breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases, due to the crowded conditions of thousands of immunocompromised animals. Influenza viruses such as H1N1 (swine flu) and H5N1 (bird flu) evolved on pig and chicken farms. Genetic analyses have shown that crucial components of H1N1 emerged from a virus circulating in North American pigs, and an analysis of 39 antigenic shifts that played a key role in the emergence of particularly dangerous influenzas showed that “all but two of these events were reported in commercial poultry production systems.” Since Appendix A of NOHF-Zoonoses lists zoonotic influenzas as the first priority, animal agriculture must be specifically mentioned in the document. 

Farmed animals today are overwhelmingly genetically uniform, immunocompromised, lodged together by the tens of thousands, and routinely administered subclinical antibiotics—a perfect petri dish for cultivating antibiotic resistance, as well as endemic and emerging zoonotic disease threats. 

Addressing industrial animal agriculture is not optional but essential. The adoption of the One Health framework presents a critical opportunity to nudge our country’s animal agriculture toward higher welfare, more sustainable farming practices that enhance rather than imperil public health.