The Impact of Livestock Farming on Zoonotic Diseases

by Olivia Draycott

Due to the outbreak of what is now known as the current Covid-19 virus, there has been an increased focus on Zoonotic diseases, especially due to how the pandemic started [1]. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that transmit from wildlife (animals and livestock) to humans, causing the same disease that was ordinarily only impactful to animals, to develop into a much larger potential threat to humans, such as the Zoonotic Animal Influenza [2]. 

Due to this threat, attempts to remove wet markets (open-air markets that slaughter live animals on site) and wild animal consumption have been suggested [3]. However, despite such suggestions, banning the consumption of wild animals risks alienating those in rural communities who depend on wild animals to sustain themselves and maintain work [3]. Posing the question as to what can be done to create sustainable livestock farming whilst maintaining the balance with those in rural/isolated communities who depend on wild animal consumption, due to the lack of other alternatives. 

Zoonotic diseases: what farming environment do they thrive in?

As stated before, those who are involved in Livestock farming are at particular risk for contracting Zoonotic diseases and enabling the spread of such. Conditions such as on wet markets, and the sale/consumption of wild animals, increase the potential of transmission across species and ultimately to humans [3]. 

Wet markets are particularly at high risk when it comes to Zoonotic disease, due to the open-air structure of the market and the sale of fresh meat, fish, poultry, often combined with the slaughter of live animals on sight [4]. The conditions, if not regulated or correctly managed can lead to the spread of pathogenic diseases due to the dirty, cramped conditions animals are kept in, such as the stacking of cages on top of one another, and keeping too great a number of animals in one area without proper access to clean water and space to relieve themselves [3,4]. 

Wet markets are a huge potential threat, yet the total ban of them fails to take into account the impact it has economically on those involved in the industry, the majority being people who rely on the markets to survive, instead alternative approaches to a total ban have been suggested. Dr. Embarak, a World Health Organisation (WHO) food safety and animal diseases scientist has instead stated that rather than a total ban, the focus should be placed on “improving hygiene and food safety standards, including separating live animals from humans” to prevent the chances of spreading Zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, a strain of SARS, with the scientific name of Covid-19 being SARS-CoV-2 virus [5, 6].

How is Livestock Farming impacting Zoonotic Diseases?

Zoonotic diseases are not new. Around 60% of all diseases experienced by the human population have animal origins, such as Ebola, Swine Flu, SARS, HIV, and more [7]. The cause for these diseases, despite their differing nature, is common human encroachment on wildlife and natural habitats. The outbreak of Ebola was largely linked to the social expansion and deforestation experienced within the initial region of the outbreak [8]. This is a recurring theme, not isolated to the Ebola virus, but instead has been linked to several outbreaks of Zoonotic diseases, due to the close proximity humans are having with wild animals, and the instrument on natural habitats, where water has the potential to be contaminated from animal faeces [8]. 

The ever-increasing tendency humans have to intrude on natural habitats is only increasing the risks of Zoonotic, due to the shared environment between wildlife and humans without proper sanitation. This in turn has an impact on livestock farming, with livestock such as pig, cattle, and poultry being kept in a habitat not natural to their species, and thus being susceptible to native animals, that carry foreign diseases through faeces, biting or saliva, as is the case in many Zoonotics associated with Bats. 

As stated by Dr. Saket Badola (the present head of the TRAFFIC India Programme at WWF-India, New Delhi); “industrial developments; and unsustainable consumption, coupled with unregulated trade of wildlife and their derivatives, often via a long and unhygienic supply chain, provide the enabling conditions for such disease spillovers” [9].


The growing intrusion into wild animal habitats is increasing the rates of Zoonotic diseases that may be transmitted, this in combination with a lack of regulative authority and hygiene standards in livestock farming results in the rise of potential pandemic outbreaks [3]. These Zoonotic diseases are not new, nor will they simply be eradicated due to their complex nature and ability to transmit from animal to human, due to sanitary conditions and humans having to share living quarters with wild animals. 


[1] Human interactions with wild and farmed animals must change dramatically to reduce the risk of another deadly pandemic, 25th June 2020, University of Cambridge,, accessed 7th July 2021.
[2] Zoonotic diseases found in the UK, 21st January 2019, Public Health England,, accessed 7th July 2021.
[3] Zoonoses, 29th July 2020, World Health Organisation,, accessed 7th July 2021. 
[4] Diana Fine Maron, ‘Wet markets’ likely launched the coronavirus. Here’s what you need to know, 5th April 2020,, accessed 7th July 2021.
[5], accessed 7th July 2021.
[6] Jane Dalton, Coronavirus: WHO backs away from ban on live animal markets, prompting warnings over emergence of new diseases, 12th May 2020,, accessed 7th July 2021.
[7] Zoonotic disease: emerging public health threats in the Region, Comité régional Sixty-first session, WHO EMRO,, accessed 7th July 2021.
[8] Piyush Nanda, Are Pandemics the Cost of Human Recklessness Towards Nature?,  5th February 2021, Harvard University,, accessed 7th July 2021. 
[9] Saket Badola, Zoonotic diseases: A neglected public and planetary health frontier, 5th July 2021, Hindustan Times,, accessed 7th July 2021. 

Olivia is a 1st year Law Student studying at Lancaster University, with a special interest in Public Law and Environmental Human Rights Law. Along with her studies, Olivia enjoys travelling and hiking, with her largest accomplishment yet being the Himalayan range in Nepal, she hopes to continue to hike once travel resumes.

Categories Food & Agriculture

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