We all know that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing chronic diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. However, what most people may not know is that conventional animal agriculture plays a significant role in the development of these conditions. A new study “Association of distance to swine concentrated animal feeding operations with immune-mediated diseases: An exploratory gene-environment study” sheds light on how conventional animal beef and pork production can lead to increased rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
Researchers from the NIH studied the impact of CAFOs, or conventional animal feeding operations, on the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disease. To understand the results of the study, it is important to first understand what CAFOs are and why they aren’t great for animals, the environment, or our own nutrition.
CAFOs are how most of the beef and pork we buy in the grocery store is raised. Instead of allowing cows to graze on grass like they were designed and have evolved to do, large commercial food companies raise them in very tight spaces. They feed them grain and other waste food products (expired candy, chicken litter) to put weight on them as cheaply and quickly as possible. Although raising them this way is terrible for our health and the nutritional content of the meat, it is great for Big Food’s profits.
Raising animals in confinement in this manner requires routine antibiotics to keep the animals alive; hormones and other synthetic medications are often administered to ensure the cattle or hogs grow to the required weight without getting too sick. In addition to producing nutritionally-depleted beef and pork, CAFOs created a perfect habitat for pathogens. The book The Big Chicken details how CAFOs have led to antibiotic resistance throughout the United States, negatively affecting not just the animals but also humans.
In this study, researchers examined 6,464 participants. As background for the study, they acknowledged that particular matter in the air has been associated with numerous immune-mediated diseases (IMD) such as rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and asthma. They studies people living within 8 miles to a CAFO.
The results demonstrated that living within 8 miles of a CAFO increased the presence of rheumatoid arthritis and other immune diseases. This relationship was stronger if there were more CAFOs around or more animals packed into a single CAFO. They also noted that living near a CAFO was associated with increased exposure to ammonia, carbon dioxide, particulate matter in the air, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), endotoxins, and more.
There are viable options to raising animals in CAFOs. Our first generation family farm Willow Creek Ranch raises animals sustainably in the Baton Rouge, LA area; other farms such as White Oak Pastures have shown that it can be done on a larger scale.
- Ayala-Ramirez M, MacNell N, McNamee LE, McGrath JA, Akhtari FS, Curry MD, Dunnon AK, Fessler MB, Garantziotis S, Parks CG, Fargo DC, Schmitt CP, Motsinger-Reif AA, Hall JE, Miller FW, Schurman SH. Association of distance to swine concentrated animal feeding operations with immune-mediated diseases: An exploratory gene-environment study. Environ Int. 2023 Jan;171:107687. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2022.107687. Epub 2022 Dec 9. PMID: 36527873.