The Animal Health Industry

» December 11th, 2014


When you think of the pharmaceutical industry, animal agriculture is likely not the first thing that comes to mind. But, in a telling reminder of how intricate the web of agribusiness can be, a recent report claims that the global animal health market is a multi billion dollar industry. With China on the verge of sending rates of meat consumption through the roof, it’s also one that has every intention of rapidly expanding in the near future.  The reason for the industry’s existence, in short, is animal agriculture (with a boost coming from companion animals).

Critical to the industry’s success are vaccines, medicated feed, and a variety of reproductive and respiratory drugs. Critics of industrial agriculture are correct to lament the connection between drugs and CAFOs. But it’s also important to remember that animals raised in smaller settings also require frequent medication for basic ailments. In my forthcoming book, The Modern Savage (which you can pre-order), I detail the extent to which small farmers rely on the animal health industry to medicate their livestock.  As long as we eat animals raised for food, and as long as animals get colds and ticks and fleas, we’ll have a sector of the pharmaceutical industry that thrives on that appetite.

The world’s top animal health firms are: Zoetis (formerly Pfizer), Merck, Merial, Eli Lilly, Bayer, Boehringer, and Novartis. They are enjoying a growth rate of about 5 percent a year. One common corporate strategy is to leverage human drugs for the animal market. And, from a corporate perspective, why not? There are only 7 billion humans, but 100 billion or so farm animals. That’s a lot more flesh and bones to keep medicated.

Concerned consumers have many reasons for not wanting to support this industry. Not only are millions of animals subjected to brutal tests in order to create these drugs, but the impact of these drugs on global ecosystems is substantial. These drugs enter the environment through excrement, urine, and direct disposal.  The State of Washington notes how it can all come back to us: “Landfill leachate can contain trace amounts of pharmaceuticals as well.  Often this leachate is sent to the same wastewater treatment systems that receive residential wastewater.”

The takeaway here is this: Our choice to raise billions of animals for food requires more than land, air, and water–all of which is bad enough. So much more is hidden from us. When we eat animals we often fail to understand the how broadly the ripple effects extend. Growing plants is hardly a chemically harmless endeavor, but it’s nothing like animal ag, where every hour is pharmaceutical cocktail hour.


4 Responses to The Animal Health Industry

  1. Sue Sullivan says:

    Just watched COWSPIRACY: the sustainability secret…..awesome film!!! The film does not address the pharma component in detail like you just did in your blog James, that’s some scary shit :( All in all, as you pointed out 93 BILLION MORE farm animals than humans….what is it going to take to get those 7 billion to eat a plant based diet?!

  2. John T. Maher says:

    And if one cares about killing humans, the use of farmed critter ABs will contribute to the AB resistant superbugs which cause an estimated 700,000 human deaths a year now and will likely cause a projected 10m human deaths by 2050. The BBC talks in general abut superbugs today at (I saw this on another blog I follow). In the economic terms James writes about today the projected cost to the world economy by 2-50 will be a lag of 2.5%-3%.

  3. Karen Harris says:

    Thanks very much for this blog. The link between the pharmaceutical industry and the animal industrial complex is not one I have given that much thought to. I have long known that farm animals are routinely drugged, but I had not been aware of the scope of the global animal health market – 7 billion human consumers vs 100 billion farm animals. A frightening and demoralizing statistic. Without doubt, the pharmaceutical industry is yet another powerful lobby, using all of the resources it has, fighting any meaningful change.
    In addition, the brutal tests animals undergo to create these drugs (and drugs used by humans as well) is beyond sad.

  4. unethical_vegan says:

    “Not only are millions of animals subjected to brutal tests in order to create these drugs.”

    Millions of animals are killed to grow unnecessary luxury foods that vegans enjoy. And these animals die horrifically brutal deaths without the (too weak) buffer of NIH policy and IACUC oversight. IMO, this trivial unnecessary death is enormously less ethical than the “sacrifice” of thousands of mice to develop herceptin or gleevec, for examle. (Two drugs that were developed entirly due to basic research in mouse models that have saved or bettered millions of human lives.)

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