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  1. News Release

  2. Jun 26, 2024

Doctors Urge State Officials to Phase Out Industrial Livestock Facilities Where Diseases Like Bird Flu Can Easily Spread

States Should Fund Farmers Who Transition From Livestock to Crops and Orchards

WASHINGTON—As reported by the Toledo Blade, the Physicians Committee—a  national nonprofit with 17,000 doctors nationwide—is asking officials in Ohio, Michigan, and other agricultural states to phase out large-scale livestock facilities including mega-dairies and massive egg farms.

The current bird flu crisis is an urgent reminder to transition food production away from intensive animal agriculture. State governors and other leaders should support farmers by establishing transition funds modeled on a program created by lawmakers in Vermont. Grants could be offered to dairy farmers, egg farmers, and others who wish to plant orchards or otherwise transition to growing crops.

During the current outbreak, the H5N1 bird flu virus has infected dairy cows in 101 herds nationwide, including 25 herds in Michigan. The virus has resulted in the deaths of millions of birds, with a focus on laying hens on egg farms. So far, the H5N1 bird flu has infected three farm workers.

Facilities with large numbers of animals in a small amount of space are a threat to public health because they provide ideal conditions for viruses to spread, evolve, and possibly acquire the ability to infect people. Intensive animal agriculture was implicated when influenza viruses H1N1, H5N1, and N7N9 jumped from animals to people, according to research published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

“It must be mentioned that animals raised in stressful, crowded environments are more prone to disease,” Lauren Maziarz, an associate professor of public health at Bowling Green State University, told the Toledo Blade. Many of the dairy cow herds and chicken flocks infected with bird flu are extremely large, including a herd with about 10, 000 cows on a farm in Sioux County, Iowa, and an egg farm with 4.2 million birds, also in Iowa.

Recently, the federal government announced that it will compensate dairy farmers for loss of milk production caused by bird flu. The government also compensates farmers when bird flu causes the loss of huge flocks of egg-laying hens or other birds. Government grants and other assistance should be available if dairy farmers or egg producers would like to switch to growing crops.

Due to economic hardship or other factors, many dairy farmers are choosing to exit the business. In Iowa, former dairy farmer Denise O’Brien sold the cows when milk prices were low and transitioned to growing crops including strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, and apple trees. In Wisconsin, Greg Zwald embraced the life of a dairy farmer, but things changed and he now runs a pick-your-own-berries enterprise. A Wisconsin dairy farmer, Paul Jereczek, is planting hazelnut trees because he’d like his children to stay on the land and he doesn’t see a future in dairy farming.

Growing trees while phasing out livestock can be especially beneficial to the environment since trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen for us to breathe. One way to keep phosphorous and other pollutants from flowing into waterways is to install riparian buffers of trees and shrubs to intercept polluted water running off of fields where chicken litter has been applied. Trees that are suitable for riparian buffers, like hazelnuts, can also provide income to the farmer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If there are fewer dairy cows and laying hens, where will people get their protein and calcium? Farmers grow many healthful and affordable sources of protein including beans, nuts, and mushrooms. Sources of calcium include almonds, sweet potatoes, and kale. Oat milk is extremely popular, especially with coffee drinkers, and Bon Appetit recently called hazelnut milk creamy and delightful. 

These plant-based foods can help people improve heart health, prevent  diabetes, and maintain a healthy weight, among other benefits. A recent study with 22 pairs of identical twins found that a plant-based diet improves heart health in as little as eight weeks. The twins following a plant-based diet experienced lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and they lost more weight than the omnivore twins.

Large-scale livestock operations contribute to climate change by producing methane, a powerful planet-warming gas. The World Health Organization says, “Reducing livestock herds would reduce emissions of methane, which is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.” Methane is an efficient heat-trapping gas, but it’s relatively short-lived, so reducing emissions now could help slow global warming.

Media Contact

Jeanne Stuart McVey



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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