One million human deaths linked to factory farming, set to double by 2050

Photo: Courtesy

The true toll of global deaths, sickness, and economic loss caused by antibiotic overuse in meat production is laid bare in study by World Animal Protection

Photo: Courtesy

The excessive use of antibiotics in factory farming is causing the premature deaths of nearly one million people and $400 billion in global economic losses each year, according to a report titled Global Public Health Cost of Antimicrobial Resistance Related to Antibiotic Use on Factory Farms published today by World Animal Protection.


The report calculates the deadly impact of antibiotic overuse specifically by international meat and dairy producers and pinpoints their share of the blame in the global superbug crisis.

Around three-quarters of the world’s antibiotics are used in farmed animals, including pigs, chickens, and cows, though it has been unclear what impact antibiotic overuse in factory farming has on human health—until now. The report details how 84% of antibiotics administered on factory farms globally are not used to treat sick animals but instead given to healthy animals to prevent disease and ensure productivity in cramped, cruel conditions for maximum profit.

This excessive use of antibiotics sees drug-resistant bacteria emerge and contaminate our environment—our food and water. As a result, our natural ability to fight life-threatening illnesses is rapidly weakening, and common, previously treatable infections are now proving fatal.


In the first study of its kind, World Animal Protection has found that four superbugs common in factory farming—Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, and non-typhoidal Salmonella—were linked to 975,000 human deaths and 35 million illnesses in 2019. That’s more deaths than some common cancers like colon or liver cancer, HIV/AIDS, or malaria in that year.

Annette Manusevich, Farming Campaign Manager, World Animal Protection, US, states, “Antibiotic resistance is a rapidly growing public health threat, and the clear link to factory farming exposed in this report demonstrates the urgent need for food systems that protect animals and humans. Meat and dairy production in the US accounts for around 11 million kg of antibiotics sold each year, which has increased in recent years. Urgent action is needed to regulate the use of antibiotics in the agriculture industry and reduce meat in diets in high-meat consuming countries to build a more sustainable food system and stop the next global health crisis.”

The report details how the human death toll linked to factory farming superbugs is on course to double by 2050 to 2 million if no immediate action is taken. Our researchers also calculated a $400 billion loss to global GDP in 2019 because of work absences due to ill health linked to factory farming superbugs, on track to increase to $1.67 trillion in annual economic losses by 2050 if the issue is not addressed.


The demand for meat is expected to increase by as much as 9% in North America by 2030.

World Animal Protection is calling for a global moratorium on factory farming to safeguard animal welfare, human health, and the environment. National governments must outlaw building new factory farms and expanding current farms to protect public health and farmed animals.

All animals deserve a life where they are treated with kindness and respect. The Farm System Reform Act (FSRA), reintroduced this year by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), would phase out the largest factory farms in the US by 2040, helping to save millions of farmed animals from suffering and removing likely heavy users of antibiotics.


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