More respiratory problems among COPD patients living near livestock farms

People who live near livestock farms are less likely to have asthma or COPD, but COPD patients who do live near livestock farms have more respiratory problems than patients who live elsewhere. That is the preliminary result of the study: ‘Livestock Farming and the Health of Nearby Residents’. This confirms the findings of the iVG study conducted in 2011.

Less asthma

Both general practitioner records and patients’ own reports of respiratory problems show that people living near livestock farms are less likely to have asthma than people living farther away. The cause of this phenomenon is unclear, but it may be due to the constant exposure to substances present in the air around livestock farms offers protection against developing the disease. Another option is that people with asthma have chosen to live elsewhere. In a follow-up study, the researchers will examine these various options.

More complaints among COPD patients

COPD involves permanent damage of the respiratory tract, usually due to cigarette smoke or exposure to chemical substances. It is unclear why people living close to livestock farms are less likely to have COPD. But people with COPD who do live near livestock farms have more respiratory problems, such as respiratory tract infections or wheezing. The relationship is more pronounced the more farms there are in the vicinity. This may be because the patients are more sensitive to the substances in the air near such farms, which irritates their respiratory tracts.


These conclusions are the result of a study of respiratory tract complaints among people who live near livestock farms using a variety of methods. On the one hand, the researchers analysed data on 110,000 patients provided by general practitioners in south-eastern Brabant and northern Limburg. Additionally, 15,000 people living in the region filled in a questionnaire asking which respiratory complaints they have had and which medicines they have taken to treat them. These studies have since been completed.

During the study, the researchers investigated whether in addition to asthma and COPD, other health problems such as lung infections or diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans are related to living near livestock farms. Approximately 2,500 people participated in this study by filling in a questionnaire and undergoing a blood test and a lung infection test. The researchers also took air samples in the areas where the participants live in order to determine which substances they are exposed to. This study is still in progress and the results are expected in 2026. The study is a cooperative effort between the RIVM, IRAS, NIVEL and WUR.