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Public unaware of major health risks of factory farming

News Section Icon Published 24/07/2023

Our new poll, released today (24 July), reveals that more than a quarter of people across eight countries polled (26%) are unaware of any of the major health risks associated with high consumption and overproduction of meat products when presented with a list of them.

Pile of cooked bacon on a slate plate against black background
Pile of cooked bacon on a slate plate against black background. Credit: xamtiw @istockphoto.

People across eight countries unaware of many health risks of high-meat diets

The poll – carried out by YouGov in the UK, the US, Czechia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain on behalf of Compassion in World Farming – shows that just one in five (20%) knew that air pollution from factory farms increases the risk of certain lung cancers and only 17% were aware that there is an increased risk of epidemics and pandemics.

While over half (54%) were aware that diets heavy in meat products increase the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and obesity, fewer than two in five (39%) were aware that current use of antibiotics in farming is making them less effective at treating human diseases.

Animal welfare a motivator to shift diet

When asked what would encourage them to purchase environmentally sustainable foods, people were most likely to cite ‘knowing the animals were reared with high welfare standards such as a comfortable living environment that meets their physical and behavioural needs’ as a reason (51%). The second most selected reason was ‘knowing the health benefits associated with organic, free-range, pasture reared meats’, with 40% selecting this.

Factory farms are making us sick

In addition to causing immense animal cruelty and damaging our planet, this trend is seriously harming our health, by:

  • Increasing people’s risk of certain cancers and other diseases including coronary heart disease, strokes, type II diabetes, as well as obesity in the global north.
  • Unjustly driving people from their land and causing malnutrition and hunger in the global south – feeding more grain to animals makes it more expensive for people which can cause land to be taken from communities to grow crops for farmed animals instead of people.*
  • Increasing the risk of pandemics like flus and coronaviruses – cramming animals together in factory farms creates the perfect environment for diseases to be transmitted and even to evolve into new, deadly strains that also infect people.
  • Increasing the risk of lung cancer due to Industrial agriculture pollution – factory farms produce air pollution when ammonia reacts with other chemical compounds in the air to form particular matter – this can penetrate deep into the lungs causing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and lung cancer.
  • Making antibiotics less effective at treating diseases in people – around 70% of the world’s antibiotics are given to farmed animals, often as a preventative measure. This is contributing to antibiotic resistance in people – predicted to kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

Compassion urges food systems change at UN event in Rome

The poll results come as representatives from each member state meet for the UN Food Systems Stocktaking Moment in Rome to review countries’ progress towards creating a more sustainable global food system. Our Global CEO, Philip Lymbery, will be participating in the event, raising awareness of the urgent need for leaders to agree a global rescue plan for our food system, including a significant global reduction in meat consumption.

Award-winning author and former UN Food Systems Champion, Philip, said:

“When animals suffer, we all suffer. Industrial animal agriculture is not only the single biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet, it’s damaging our planet, increasing the risk of pandemics and seriously harming our health.

“Yet our new poll shows that many people aren’t even aware of other serious health risks linked to meat production. What’s needed is for world leaders to agree a clear global ‘rescue plan’ for our food system to ensure a healthy future for people, planet and animals. Urgent policies are needed from governments to reduce meat consumption and accelerate a shift towards regenerative food and farming.”

Factory farming: We need to END.IT for our health

We have launched an initiative as part of our global END.IT campaign to raise awareness of the human costs associated with eating too much meat and other animal proteins. It includes the launch of a new booklet – When Animals Suffer, We All Suffer– explaining the risks. 

The END.IT campaign is supported by renowned actor Brian Cox who said: “Factory farming is not only the single biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet, it is harming the environment and human health. It contributes to heart disease, lung cancer, antibiotic resistance, and even malnutrition. We need to End It. Now. Join me in calling on world leaders to transform our global food system for the sake of our health and the wellbeing of future generations to come.”

Polling across eight countries shows different levels of awareness

Carried out in June and July 2023, the poll showed that awareness of the health consequences of high-meat diets and production was low in all countries. The USA had the highest number of people unaware of any of the health consequences at 34%, followed by the UK at 26%. The country with the lowest number of people unaware of any of these health risks was Italy at 19% - still 1 in 5 people.

Adults in the UK were most likely to be aware of the increased risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and obesity due to overconsumption (61%) and alongside Spain, were the most likely to cite animal welfare benefits as a reason for considering adopting a more sustainable diet (both 56%), with 55% of those polled in France also citing this.

Those surveyed in Italy and Poland were the least likely to be aware of the pandemic risk associated with high-meat diets (both at 12%), followed by Czechia (14%). However, adults in Poland were the most likely to be aware of the 'increased risk of certain lung cancers due to air pollution from factory farms’ (27%), followed by those in Italy (26%), with people from Czechia and the UK the least aware of this (both 15%). People surveyed in the USA were also the most likely to state that nothing would encourage them to buy sustainably produced food (24%), compared with just 6% of people in Italy. 

Find out more

To learn more about why we need to reduce Animal Sourced Foods in our diets, have a look at our Rethinking Food page.


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