In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

Emerging diseases and factory farming

In 2008, as we followed a disastrous international response to the H5N1 bird flu epidemic sweeping Asia, we wrote: “The world is in the midst of big changes with respect to global diseases. We are heading […] for more deadly types of disease, and more capacity for them to spread. There is also a greater probability of the emergence of zoonotic diseases and global pandemics. Yet the international response to this situation has so far failed […] to reflect the seriousness of the crisis[1]”.

The source of the problem was obvious: the rapid expansion of a model of animal farming in which thousands of genetically uniform animals are packed together and pushed to grow as fast as possible. These factory farms are breeding grounds for the evolution and amplification of lethal strains of diseases, with the possibility to infect humans —as the vast majority of new diseases affecting humans come from animals (known as ‘zoonoses’). The globalised structure of the industry, with its highly concentrated areas of production (including in deforested areas where there is risk of contact with wild animals) and its focus on exporting feed, meat and animals over large distances, create the conditions for disease to spread widely and rapidly.

The H5N1 bird flu epidemic should have questioned the promotion of factory farming and industrial meat. But the opposite occurred. Governments and international agencies blamed small farmers and traditional markets. They put in place a range of measures to protect the industrial meat companies, and used the epidemic as an opportunity to increase scale and concentration, leaving oversight for these deadly farms and meat plants in the hands of corrupt corporations and tycoons.

In 2009, a swine flu pandemic emerged in Mexico out of the globalised pork industry. This was followed by a devastating African Swine Fever pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands pigs in areas where factory farming had been expanding: Russia, China and other parts of Asia. Then came Covid-19, and while its exact animal origin is not yet known, corporate meat processing plants were a major source of transmission, affecting hundreds of thousands of workers, their families and friends. Bird flu has luckily not yet morphed into a pandemic strain, but a new variant is killing millions of wild birds and running out of control through the most tightly-sealed industrial poultry farms of North America, Japan and Europe.

Under the guise of “biosecurity”, governments and agencies like the FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) continue to promote measures to further industrialise livestock farming under corporate control.  Approaches based on animal diversity, traditional knowledge and small-scale, localised production and markets, are ignored and even criminalised.

To stop this recklessness and keep the world safe from new pandemics, we have to end factory farming and defend and rebuild diverse, small-scale, localised systems of animal husbandry.

In the spotlight 2

The resistance against the expansion of mega pig farms and the defence of Indigenous territories, water, air, and nature in Latin America[2]

Despite the serious harms they cause, pig factories are spreading from the United States throughout Latin America. These meat factories are part of the current dominant (and expanding) food regime, the grain-oilseed-livestock complex[3]  through which grain and oilseeds (mostly genetically modified maize and soy) are used to feed the growing number of food animals. Unfortunately, if things do not change, by 2029, meat production will increase by 40 million[4] and much of this meat will be produced in Latin America. As most of the meat is exported, there is a clear unequal exchange between those who benefit from the exploitation of humans, non-human animals, and nature (meat companies); and the communities —usually Indigenous, peasant, and Afro communities— who experience the multiple negative impacts of the industry.

Pig factories are industrial meat production operations that confine thousands of pigs in closed spaces, to focus their energy into producing meat. The production of meat under this capitalist logic pollutes water, air, and the soil. It is associated with land grabbing and health hazards (including pandemics), it is one of the largest contributors to climate change and deforestation, involves cruelty against animals and displaces other more sustainable and just forms of food.

Pig factories are also associated with multiple rights violations, including the rights to land and territory, to a healthy environment, to water, to food, the rights of nature, human rights defenders and Indigenous Peoples[5]

It is no surprise that there is a growing resistance against the expansion of agribusiness and specifically pig factories. In 2022, impacted communities, activists, organisations and academics met in Yucatan to discuss the growing problem of pig factories in the region. The declaration of America without mega pig farms[6] solidifies the demand to promote food sovereignty, agroecology and ancestral food production, instead of subsidising and supporting agroextractivism and the need to stop meat factories.

Multiple collective actions have taken place to stop meat factories. Including, but are not limited to, citizen consultations, Indigenous self-consultations, campaigns, protests, occupations, and litigation[7].  When they have raised their voices, multiple peasants and Indigenous Peoples have suffered intimidation, criminalisation, and repression. At a regional level, multiple organisations have requested the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to grant a thematic hearing to address the cases of human rights abuses in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and the United States related to the meat industry.

[1] Viral times – The politics of emerging global animal diseases,

[2] There are many documents made by the group that produces this article. See more here and here.

[3] Weis, T. (2013). The ecological hoofprint: The global burden of industrial livestock. Bloomsbury.   

[4] Stiftung, H. B. Meat Atlas 2021.

[5] For more information regarding the meat industry and human rights violations, please visit the thematic hearing request presented by 20 organisations and supported by 243 in 2022, and again in 2023, available here.

[6] The Declaration (in Spanish) is available here.

[7] For more information about Yucatan and elsewhere, you can visit the storymap (in Spanish).