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Study on livestock farms and public health

Dutch scientists have carried out an extensive research on the relationship between people living close to intensive livestock operations and their health. The result: there are positive as well as negative effects.

People living in the direct neighbourhood of intensive livestock farms were shown to have a higher occurrence of respiratory infections and a reduced lung function, predominantly due to a narrowing of the airways. These same people, however, were also observed to less often suffer from asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

These key conclusions were presented in a report on 7 July 2016.

Relationship between livestock and neighbours

The research, held in the Netherlands, aimed to establish whether there is a relationship between livestock production and health of direct neighbours. The researchers said that although the relationship between farm and the health of their staff has been amply researched, little attention has been paid to the condition of direct neighbours and a livestock farm.

The research was jointly carried out by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Institute for Risk Assessment Studies (IRAS), the Netherlands Institute for Research in Health Care (NIVEL) and Utrecht University (UU).

Particulate matter levels

The research, which took about 3 years to conclude, revealed that around intensive livestock operations, higher concentrations of particulate matter were found in the air. In addition, also the concentration of endotoxins are higher around intensive livestock operations than in cities. These higher endotoxin levels were mainly found to be related to pig and poultry farms.

Photo: Marcel van Hoorn
Livestock farms in the Netherlands already try to cleanse the emitting air using air scrubbers. Photo: Marcel van Hoorn

The lung function among people living in a 1-km radius around poultry farms, was shown to be 2-4% lower. This reduced lung function could for instance be caused by higher particulate matter in the air as well as a higher concentration of ammonia, in turn reacting to other particulate.

Three goals

The research started out with three goals:

  • Determine the exposure to particulate matter as well as micro-organisms and endotoxins within this particulate matter for neighbours of intensive livestock farms;
  • Map health problems amongst neighbours of intensive livestock farms, as diagnosed by a GP;
  • Try to connect dots between the first two bullet points.

MRSA and Q-fever

Zooming in on particulate matter, the researchers paid special attention for livestock-related Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as well as Q-fever. The human health focus was on respiratory problems, like asthma and COPD, and the gastro-intestinal tract.

Research was carried out near farms having poultry, pigs, cattle and goats, as well as in locations having more and fewer animals, as well as near different types of farms (e.g. size, presence of an air scrubber).

MRSA bacteria found around livestock operations

The livestock-related MRSA bacteria was found more often and in higher concentrations in a 1 km radius around livestock operations. In general, however, there was no higher risk for infections with MRSA, as well as related to ESBL, hepatitis E or influenza.

Remarkably, the research revealed that the closer neighbours live to intensive livestock operations, the fewer respiratory infections, allergies, cases of bronchitis and hay fever are seen. One could see this as a protective relationship.

Goats, poultry and mink farms

In surroundings where a lot of goats are being held, Q-fever and pneumonia is often observed. Around poultry farms, pneumonia is measured more often than usual. In the neighbourhood of mink farms, more often asthma and allergic rhinitis are found, the research revealed.

In a reaction, the Dutch Agri- and Horticultural Organisation (LTO) indicated that farms need to reduce the emission of particulate. The organisation points to animal welfare regulations causing the emission of more particulate matter – as it could be a result of the animals moving around more.

For the research, almost 15,000 people were interviewed. In addition, 2,500 people were actively researched.


  • Wm Tooley

    Statements in this summary seem to be contradictory to each other? Reaction, the Dutch Agri- and Horticultural Organisation refers to particulate matter (PM) without any clear reason for this connection. A click through to a more extensive English review of the study would be helpful. Thanks for bringing this to attention.

  • David Burch

    This is particularly interesting. It coincides with a report from the UK (Toleman et al, 2016) looking at human MRSA isolates from the East of England, the heart of pig country in the UK and they reported finding only 1/2283 (0.04%) isolates associated with MRSA CC398, the livestock associated MRSA, in contrast to Denmark where 43% of the human isolates were CC398 and 19% were associated with infections. (Danmap, 2015). It would seem to confirm that MRSA is not widespread in the UK pig herds as some associations have suggested.

  • Vincent ter Beek

    Hello WM Tooley, thank you for your comment. Please do let me know what kind of statements come across as contradictory to each other and I will try to answer your query as clearly as possible. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of English language material available at this stage, I would have certainly linked to it if it were. You can also e-mail me at

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