Bad for people
When we talk about the impact of animal products on our health, we often focus on markers like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, along with the diseases they can cause. “Eating meat has been found to increase your odds of dying from heart disease and certain types of cancer, the two leading causes of death in the country,” says Balk, adding that Type 2 diabetes is also linked to meat consumption. “Human health experts around the world agree that we should be eating more plant-based foods and reducing the amount of meat.”
Factory farms themselves also harm human health. The huge amount of antibiotics that keep animals on these farms from getting sick is leading to an abundance of drug-resistant bacteria. And factory farms’ very nature—full of stressed animals, with poor sanitation—creates ideal conditions for diseases to thrive, including viruses that can infect humans. Just as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, most likely jumped to humans at a meat and wildlife market in Wuhan, China, other viruses (including avian and swine flus) have infected people from farms.
Workers in slaughterhouses—the grim and unavoidable counterparts to factory farms—are particularly vulnerable. During the COVID-19 pandemic, whistleblowers reported insufficient hygiene practices, sick leave and distancing measures, which when combined with the nature of the work—people standing close together, rapidly wielding knives to keep up with the line—led to slaughterhouses becoming hot spots for the virus’s spread in the U.S.
Pandemics aside, factory farms and slaughterhouses are always hazardous places of work. Exposure to toxic chemicals, biological hazards and dangerous equipment are just a few of the risks listed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Here’s the good news: Plant-based meats require no factory farms or slaughterhouses, and they contain no cholesterol. A recent study even showed that replacing animal protein with plant-based meat for two meals a day improved certain cardiovascular risk factors among participants.