Eating Our Way To The Next Pandemic?
Proveg, a “food awareness organization” with a global scope, have posted a comprehensive report showing clear links between modern animal agriculture and pandemics. As they show, many of our modern farming practices are directly increasings our odds of suffering another pandemic in our lifetimes. While many might worry that an organization called ‘ProVeg’ might be pushing a vegan agenda, they provide volumes of evidence to back up their claims. The report contains 465 references, most of which are peer reviewed scientific articles from research groups at universities around the world. In this summary, we break down the key need-to-knows from the report.
The Threat Of Disease From Animals
The report begins by pointing out that the current consensus among scientists is that COVID-19 came from wild animals. The disease hopped from species to species until it got to us, possibly jumping from bats to pangolins, and then to us.
COVID-19’s bizarre road trip of death across the animal kingdom to get to us might sound strange, but it isn’t. In fact, most new diseases come from animals. According to the UN environmental program, 75% of emerging diseases in humans are ‘Zoonoses’. This means they are diseases that normally affect animals, but then mutate to be able to infect humans. Zoonoses you may have heard of include SARS, MERS, Ebola, Rabies, HIV, Marburg virus, and many forms of flu. Zoonoses kill 2.7 million people every year, more than traffic accidents and diabetes combined.
Animal Agriculture: The Bridge Between Wild Animals And Humans That Diseases Exploit
But what does this have to do with modern farming and eating animals? The report makes clear that farming animals for food on a massive scale like we do makes it more likely that wild animal diseases will get to us.
Firstly, there are many areas of the world where we still eat wild animals. Second, wild animals that we don’t have much contact with might pass the disease to our farm animals, which we do have lots of contact with. Many people don’t know that the flu we experience every year is thought to originally have come from wild aquatic birds like ducks, and got to us through farmed pigs, who can catch many human and bird diseases.
The report also notes that animals are also more likely to get sick when we hunt them for food, or clear away their habitats for farmland to graze our animals. This is because it puts them under a lot of stress, which impacts their immune systems. Animals are more likely to get sick when stressed, just like us.
Farmed Animals Create And Strengthen Human-Killing Diseases
But it’s not just wild animals that bring pandemics. Many diseases we suffer from today came from farmed animals themselves. According to the report, our ancient ancestors didn’t get the flu, measles or smallpox – these diseases emerged when we started to farm animals for food. Bird and swine flu both came from farmed animals. Domesticated animals like farm animals have given us diptheria, measles, mumps, smallpox, and rotavirus.
In fact, farmed animals are perfect environments for human-killing diseases to emerge and evolve. The way most animals are kept is the exact opposite of social distancing, so diseases spread quickly.
When we clear away nature to make room for farmed animals, we replace hundreds of species with their hundreds of specific diseases with just one animal (e.g. cows) and one set of diseases (e.g. cow diseases). Normally the thousands of diseases that attack wild animals aren’t much of a problem, because each one can only infect a small number of animals. This is called “the dilution-effect”. However, viruses affecting farmed animals can run riot across thousands of animals, giving them many opportunities to mutate into something that can infect humans. COVID-19 didn’t come from factory farmed animals, but it’s clear that the next pandemics we may face are very likely to.
In our quest to breed the perfect meat-producing animals, we have limited the genetic diversity of our farm animals. Lack of genetic diversity makes a species more at risk of major disease outbreaks, because they all have similar immune systems. If one pig is vulnerable to a disease, there’s a good chance that most pigs on that farm will also be vulnerable, the report notes.
The fact that farmed animals are taken to slaughter when they are relatively young means the diseases that infect them have to adapt to spread fast. Otherwise, they might be killed along with their animal host. In the wild, diseases often evolve to be less lethal, because animals will avoid dead members of their own species. A disease stuck in an unmoving corpse cannot spread in the wild. But in a chicken farm, chickens do not have the space to avoid their dead barn-mates because they are packed in so tightly. This means a disease can quite happily evolve to be more deadly, because it will still have plenty of opportunity to jump to a living host. Modern farms create an environment that breeds diseases that are deadlier and spread faster — a 1-2 punch combo that could send humanity reeling.
Farming Animals Makes Us More Vulnerable To The Next Pandemic
Every year, diseases evolve to beat our antibiotics, and every year scientists race to make new ones. But scientists are losing the race, and it’s mostly thanks to animal agriculture. More than 70% of our antibiotics are used on farm animals. This is to keep them healthy in the unnaturally cramped and dirty conditions they are kept in. It also makes meat companies more money, as animals fed antibiotics grow faster as a side effect. Giving millions of animals antibiotics for most of their lives means bacteria have plenty of opportunities to mutate around them.
You might object and say that COVID-19 is a virus, not a bacterial infection, and so it isn’t vulnerable to antibiotics. This is true. However, when we get a virus, bacteria often also attack us, taking advantage of our weakened immune systems. In the 1918 flu pandemic, up to 90% of the deaths were not directly due to the virus, but because of bacterial infections that followed the virus. Whether the next pandemic is caused by bacteria or viruses, if we continue to pump farm animals full of antibiotics, we’ll be left powerless to protect our sick.
The evidence in the report is sobering. It seems we have two choices: either we stop clearing away wild animals’ habitats for our farms, and stop eating animals (wild and farmed)… or we wipe out all wild animal populations on earth. This sounds extreme, but any other choice makes future pandemics more or less inevitable. There’s just no other way to keep the millions of virus’ across the animal kingdom at bay. Which choice seems easier to you? Which seems fairer? Which world would you prefer?:
- A world where we eat animals and many wild species go extinct. We see more and more global pandemics.
- A world where we eat meat, but all wild animals are extinct outside zoos. Farmed animals cause occasional pandemics.
- A world where we don’t farm or eat animals and greatly curb or halt habitat destruction. Pandemics are rare.
We are currently unknowingly selecting the first. All that is needed for a pandemic is for one animal with one mutated virus, coming into contact with one human. Our farms contain millions of cows, chickens and pigs, each containing viruses that are mutating to be deadlier, spread faster, and defeat our antibiotics. If we don’t do something to change this, the COVID-19 pandemic is only the beginning.
Part 2 of the report will deal with solutions, progress and what you can do. It hasn’t been released as of the time of this posting, but you can sign up to receive it on ProVeg’s website.