Is Fracking a Food Safety Hazard?

The author of the first peer-reviewed study on the implications of hydraulic fracturing for the health of farm animals has warned U.K. planners to halt plans to expand fracking in Britain until the food safety implications of the practice can be assessed.

Robert Oswald, PhD, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, last year published a report in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy that linked dozens of cases of illness, death, and reproductive problems in livestock to gas drilling operations nearby. For example, after one herd of cows in Pennsylvania grazed on land contaminated with chemicals from fracking, the herd suffered a 50 percent stillbirth rate.

“We are reporting short-term health changes but no one knows what the long-term health changes may be, especially those caused by low doses of chemicals,” Dr. Oswald told the British publication The Ecologist in early September. “[British] farmers living in intensively drilled areas should be very concerned about potential exposures of their crops and herds to shale-gas contaminants in the water, air, and soil.”

But Dr. Oswald’s study has been criticized as “an advocacy piece” by other experts, such as Ian Rae, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia who co-chairs the Chemicals Technical Options Committee for the United Nations Environment Programme. It’s a series of case studies, rather than a controlled study or epidemiological analysis.

Multiple large animal experts contacted by Food Quality & Safety said that they did not have enough current information or research to comment on the health implications of fracking for livestock or food safety.

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