Thursday, November 19, 2009

Disease by Industrialization

The increased globalization and industrialization of the food industry is contributing to the spread of disease from humans to animals and threatening food security, according to a recent study. Scientists at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute have discovered a bacteria in chickens originally coming from humans. It is is thought to have made the jump to chickens around 40 years ago with the introduction of intensive poultry farming in which a limited number of chicken gene pools are controlled by a small number of multinational companies.

"Half a century ago chickens were mostly reared for their eggs, with meat regarded as a by-product,” said Dr. Ross Fitzgerald from The Roslin Institute. “Now the demand for meat has led to a poultry industry dominated by a few multinational companies which supply a limited number of breeding lines to a global market - thereby promoting the spread of the bacteria around the world.”

The bacteria leads to bone and joint infections in chickens, making them lame and requiring them to be culled. Dr. Fitzgerald warned that any further spread of disease from humans to livestock could have a serious impact on food security. The study suggests that what happened to chickens is an inversion of the current emergence of the swine flu virus, H1N1, which jumped from a pig to a human in Mexico and then quickly spread around the world.

The scientists now intend to widen the scope of research and analyze other breeds of livestock to see if they have contracted any human bugs. If bacteria were also shown to be crossing from humans to other livestock, such as dairy cattle, this would have alarming implications for global agriculture and food security. “We do need to start investigating to see if this is happening on a wider scale,” Fitzgerald said, “It’s almost a cautionary tale that we need to be a bit more aware of the impact that the industrialization of agriculture and globalization in general could have on the emergence of new pathogens, whether effecting humans or animals.”

Slow food

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