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Nothing to sneeze at: research shows farm proximity can reduce allergy suffering

youth with livestock

It’s finally spring here in Iowa and that means the allergy season has reached full bloom. Everywhere you go these days, you see folks sneezing, sniffing, rubbing their eyes and feeling generally miserable. Many search the medicine cabinet for relief, while others just count the days until the pollen count subsides.

But some folks, especially those who grew up on or near a livestock farm, are likely having an easier time with the annual allergy onslaught.

New research from the Netherlands shows that living on a livestock farm, or even close to one, may help protect people from common allergies. Those findings might not set well with anti-livestock activists who are always on the lookout to point fingers at the farm. But they do make a ton of common sense.

Being around cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock means a person is going to be exposed to dust, manure and, of course, the occasional sloppy lick from a milk cow. That exposure, as earlier research has clearly shown, helps build immunity and means that farmers and people raised on livestock farms tend not to be plagued by common allergies as much as their city counterparts.

In their new work, the Dutch researchers take it a bit further—out to the neighborhood. By taking blood samples from folks in an area with a high density of livestock production, the researchers found that built in allergy protection went beyond the farm gate to folks who live nearby.

The research team found that those people in the study who lived within about 1,000 feet of a livestock farm were 27 percent less likely to have allergies than those who lived farther away. Being surrounded by nearby farms, with about 1,600 feet, was also tied to a 4 percent lower risk for allergies.

In their report, the Dutch researchers write: “Despite concerns about the influence of air pollution from livestock farms on public health, our study found results that are indicative of potentially beneficial health effects of living in close proximately to farms.”

We’ve always known that Iowa farms and our state’s rural countryside are healthy places to live. Now we’ve got some research to prove that our common-sense hunch is nothing to sneeze at.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is the News Services Manager and Spokesman Editor for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.



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