In India, Zoonotic Disease Might Encourage Plant-Based Diets
The risk of new diseases such as H1N1 (Swine Flu), H7N9 (Bird Flu), and Ebola are compounded by meat consumption. The crowded and dirty conditions that farmed animals often endure allow pathogens to spread easily, the high usage of antibiotics in livestock increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance, and climate change exacerbated by meat consumption has been linked to disease risk. A 2020 United Nations report listed demand for animal protein as one of seven “trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to devastate the world, could concerns about future zoonotic disease encourage more people to adopt plant-based diets? To find out, in May-June 2020 researchers distributed an online survey assessing attitudes toward diet and zoonotic disease to 757 participants in the Delhi and National Capital Region of India.
Researchers found that most respondents were aware of the link between diet and zoonotic disease: approximately 80% reported believing that “eating animal products helps in spreading many infectious diseases like zoonotic diseases,” and about half reported knowing that meat consumption “increases the risk of antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans and animals.” Vegetarians were slightly more likely to report knowledge of both items compared to non-vegetarians.
The researchers also found evidence that this knowledge might contribute to dietary decisions. 73% of respondents believed that following a vegetarian or vegan diet would reduce the probability of spreading zoonotic disease. And when framed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, about 40% of non-vegetarians reported being “willing to adopt a vegan/vegetarian diet after [Covid-19].”
Like all survey research, this study had important limitations: here, the surveyed population represented only one region of India, and did not match the general population on characteristics such as age and gender. However, interpreting these results in the context of other studies — as well as Faunalytics’ own research — shows that careful education about diet-induced risks of zoonotic disease can be a valuable component of pro-veg*n messaging, but that these messages may be most effective when they are gentle.