Today, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported:

Laut einer Auswertung von 19 wissenschaftlichen Studien durch die Organisation Foodwatch stammte jedes vierte tierische Produkt von einem kranken Tier. Entzündete Kuheuter, Hühner mit Knochenbrüchen, Schweine mit Atemwegserkrankungen sind einkalkulierte Begleiterscheinungen dieser Industrie, so die Autoren der Untersuchung.

[Google translation]

According to an evaluation of 19 scientific studies by the organization Foodwatch every fourth animal product came from a sick animal. Inflamed cow udders, chickens with broken bones, pigs with respiratory diseases are a calculated side effect of this industry, the authors of the study stated.

I can't find any pertinent report on the Foodwatch website. But perhaps this one is the original source?

  • 3
    I am fairly certain bone fractures are not diseases. Breaking a limb may debilitate you, but it doesn't normally count as being sick.
    – JAB
    Nov 2, 2017 at 14:11
  • 4
    Should the fact that my leather belt came from an animal with a sinus infection concern me? "Animal products" casts a very wide net. Nov 2, 2017 at 14:42
  • 2
    The original article uses the term "sick". But it isn't about fear of spreading diseases or eating tainted meat, it's about the suffering of the animals themselves.
    – tim
    Nov 2, 2017 at 15:06
  • 3
    @tim presumably, yes. But mostly it's the other way around: Animals are raised to produce goods, and its cheaper to raise them in a way that makes them sick than to keep them in 'humane' (or just healthy) conditions. Nov 2, 2017 at 15:28
  • 1
    @henning Another way to put it - look at your body. There are very high chances that you have some bruise, cut, rash or something like that, somewhere, in your body. You would count as "sick" for this article, even if your health is otherwise completly fine.
    – T. Sar
    Nov 3, 2017 at 10:48

1 Answer 1


These are apparently two claims to analyse:

The newspaper report is accurately citing its material.

Although this little snippet from the article in question is bit of old news.

Foodwatch went public with this report on September 22, 2016, to promote the book „Das Schweinesystem: Wie Tiere gequält, Bauern in den Ruin getrieben und Verbraucher getäuscht werden“ by Matthias Wolfschmidt. (translation: The pig system: How animals are tortured, farmers are ruined and consumers are deceived.)

The original press release is here:

Jedes vierte Tierprodukt stammt von einem kranken Tier

(Every fourth animal product comes from a sick animal)

Is the source for the newspaper snippet accurate?

In the original press release it was further qualified:

Als Faustregel müssen Verbraucherinnen und Verbraucher davon ausgehen, dass mindestens jedes vierte Tierprodukt von einem kranken Tier stammt. Sie kaufen Milch von Kühen mit entzündeten Eutern und Eier von Hühnern mit Knochenbrüchen. Beim Einkauf ist dies nicht zu erkennen, Produkte kranker Tiere werden regelmäßig als „gesunde“ Lebensmittel angeboten.

(As a rule of thumb, consumers must assume that at least every fourth animal product comes from a sick animal. They buy milk from cows with inflamed udders and eggs from chickens with broken bones. They can not realise this when shopping. Products of sick animals are regularly offered as "healthy" food.)

The studies cited in this claim are to be found compiled here (in German).

While the final number of 25% is an aggregate that varies 'naturally' from study to study and animal product to animal product it seems like a fairly good estimate of what is on the German/European market. While I haven't calculated the number myself, it seems far from "too high". It looks more like a cautious and conservative number, given the inclusion criteria for "sick animals". Lacking a statement of what kind of average was employed makes it even harder to definitively re-apply that calculation.

Between the studies analysed the number of problems reported varied widely and included minor problems detrimental to the optimal well being of the animals up to major health problems that would render the products unfit for human consumption. Some reports done by those institutions involved in slaughtering animals do give numbers that sometimes more than half of the products had to be discarded because of various infections.

The way these reports are compiled and used has a clear motivation. Primary concern is ending perceived and real cruelty towards farm animals. This clearly a vegan point of view. To that end the argument of sickness in animals is used to make a direct connection to the consumer. The rule of thumb amounting to 25% of all animal products on the market may be statistically correct. As a rule of thumb for practical consumer choice it is quite useless, since even organic farming methods were plagued with problems and the products on shelves are apparently indistinguishable for consumers. As an aggregate estimation this number of 25% mixes health and safety concerns for the consumer with denouncing disgusting practices and disgusting products with clear violations against animal rights legislation. Any given product might be ticking just one of those checkboxes or all at once.

The perspective of consumer expectation is not only equivalent to depictions of happy cows on green pastures in commercials and on product packaging. This view is also mirrored closely by federal institutions in Germany, like the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, that assures the interpretation is "correct" in so far that current practices ensure "Tierleistungen als auch die Tiergesundheit langfristig aufrecht erhalten." (Productivity of animals and health of animals are kept to high standard in the long term.) Compared to that an average of 25% sickness in animals across the board is very high and even the smaller numbers from the reports still contrast the suggested baseline of near 0%.

The studies and reports used are not solely from animal rights activists and show a surprising number of problems for organic farming methods as well.

Among the highlights found in those studies:


  • 90% of milk cows were sick over the year
  • 21.5% fertility disorders, 14.2% udder inflammation or infection


  • Only 8.2% of pigs in conventional farming were without hoof disorders
  • Only 19% of pigs from organic farming were without disorders

While the study is compiled by an animal rights activist the sources used for his campaign give bare statistics gathered from the industry internally and by overseeing institutions. The over arching number of 25% across all sections of animal products might seem unreasonable. But for carcasses entering the food market it is not entirely far fetched. Bacteriologically infected and visibly degraded meat is sorted out. But if only the lungs and udders are inflamed only those organs are discarded and the everything from that sick animal that looks OK is passed on as 'good enough'.

One of the sub claims is about 10% of all milk sold is from cows with infected udders. "This is impossible because it's downright forbidden." says Moder, president of the German federal association of veterinaries. Only then going on to qualify that that after 5-6 six days the numbers for infectious cell markers in the milk fall below the legal threshold and that milk from the at least recently infected udder is mixed with in with the rest and thus further diluted.

Der Bundesverband Praktizierender Tierärzte bezweifelt aber insbesondere die Behauptung, dass massenhaft Milch von kranken Kühen in die Lebensmittelkette gelange. „Das ist schlicht und einfach verboten“, sagte Verbandspräsident Siegfried Moder der taz. Denkbar sei allenfalls, dass Milch aus einem Euter verkauft wird, das beispielsweise 5 bis 6 Tage nach einer Erkrankung eine erhöhte Zahl körpereigener Zellen aufweise. Eine Zellzahl von über 400.000 kann eine Entzündung bedeuten. Da diese Milch aber mit der anderer Kühe gemischt werde und die Zellzahl von den Molkereien kontrolliert werde, bestehe keine Gefahr für die Verbraucher. „Wenn ich von einem kranken Euter spreche, brauche ich eine Diagnose und Entzündungssymptome, die ich bei 400.000 Zellen nicht unbedingt habe“, so Moder.

The legal use of antibiotics for 2015 on the same market analysed in the report was at 805 metric tons.


This is probably more important: the claim in the source report is not about products from animals that are so sick to directly and immediately endanger consumers. It's just stating that on average one fourth of the products on the market come from maltreated, neglected and sick animals that were in pain and agony long before they were killed for food.

Exact statistics for different products might differ, as a mean or median these numbers seem to add up.

Source studies lifted from the press release:

Dippel S, Dolezal M, Brenninkmeyer C, Brinkmann J, March S, Knierim U, Winckler C (2009): Risk factors for lameness in freestall-housed dairy cows across two breeds, farming systems, and countries. Journal of Dairy Science 92: 5476-5486.

  • 3
    A couple of points you might want to point out: first, there's a clear ecological fallacy in the claim (25% does not apply equally across categories of animal products) and also a total lack of context (1 in 4 is high? low? compared to what baseline?)
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 2, 2017 at 17:07
  • 3
    Nice answer, man 90% of milk cows were sick over the year. I get sick about 9 out of 10 years too so I'm not surprised.
    – daniel
    Nov 2, 2017 at 18:34
  • 2
    @Sklivz a reasonable baseline could be animals in their natural habitat. Nov 2, 2017 at 20:03
  • 1
    @henn perhaps, but in nature animals live a shorter, harder life which makes the comparison dubious.
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 3, 2017 at 5:00
  • 1
    @LangLangC Cows grown for meat are usually slaughtered before their first year. Cows for milk, however, easily make it into their 20's, at least here in Spain - I worked programming an application for animal control for the regional government and I could look the birthdates of the animals.
    – Rekesoft
    Nov 3, 2017 at 13:08

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