An overwhelming body of science-based evidence is throwing more light on how the rapidly growing industrialized animal farms around the world are contributing to serious environmental pollution, climate change, and the spread of infectious diseases.
Recently, top scientists in the Vox American news extensively discussed this issue. It is reported that the novel corona virus made the jump from animals to humans in China’s wet markets, just like SARS before it. Unsurprisingly, many people are furious that the markets, which were closed in the immediate wake of the outbreak in China, are already reopening. Undoubtedly, our eating habit as humans around the world is a major risk factor for pandemics.
Today, humans eat a ton of meat, and the vast majority of it comes from factory farms. In these huge industrialized facilities that supply more than 90 percent of meat globally, animals are tightly packed together and live under harsh and unsanitary conditions.
According to Michael Greger, the author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, “When we overcrowd animals by the thousands, in cramped football-field-size sheds, to lie beak to beak or snout to snout, and there’s stress crippling their immune systems, and there’s ammonia from the decomposing waste burning their lungs, and there’s a lack of fresh air and sunlight put all these factors together and you have a perfect-storm environment for the emergence and spread of disease.”
What’s worse, selection for specific genes in farmed animals (for desirable traits like large chicken breasts) has made these animals almost genetically identical. That means that a virus can easily spread from animal to animal without encountering any genetic variants that might stop it in its tracks. As it rips through a flock or herd, the virus can grow even more virulent.
Meanwhile, a new study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) dubbed World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscapes has reported that “seventy percent of the new diseases that have emerged in humans over recent decades are of animal origin and, in part, directly related to the human quest for more animal-sourced food”.
Furthermore, as the study proposes, “Deforestation, human and agricultural encroachment into forest and game reserves, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, and bush meat- or wild meat-related practices all enhance the risk of animal to human species jumps by disease agents. Once a novel, wildlife-origin pathogen starts to be transmitted among humans, the risk of a pandemic Israel”.
For example, the acute form of sleeping sickness in humans, caused by the protozoan blood parasite Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, used to be transmitted by bloodsucking tsetse flies that had previously fed on game animals.
Today, ruminant livestock has become a main reservoir of what used to be a mainly wildlife-related blood parasite. As a result, humans increasingly contract the Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense form of sleeping sickness at a distance from game reserves and main tsetse infestation areas, such as in livestock–crop agriculture systems.
Dr. Wallace explains how animal farms worsen the spread of pathogens
Rob Wallace, an evolutionary biologist at the Agro-ecology and Rural Economics Research Corps in St. Paul, Minnesota, explains through a crash course in zoonotic how and why pathogen transmissions occur from the point of view of the pathogen. If you’re deep in the wilderness or on a small farm, you (the pathogen) are not going to regularly come across hosts, so you’ve got to keep your virulence, or harm inflicted on the host, pretty low so that you don’t run out of hosts. “But if you get into a barn with 15,000 turkeys or 250,000-layer chickens, you can just burn right through” Wallace said.
“There’s no cap on your being a badass”. He further argues thus, “this is part of why factory farms are a bigger risk for zoonotic outbreaks than the natural world or small farms” he said.
Types of Pandemics caused by the meat industry
Technically speaking, there are two main types of pandemic: (1) viral pandemic; examples include the 1918 influenza pandemic and COVID-19 and (2) bacterial pandemic; the prime example is the bubonic plague, the “Black Death” that wracked Europe in the middle Ages. Livestock farming is a typical culprit for both cases.
Factory farming and antibiotic resistance
Another very worrying issue is the burgeoning cases of “highly drug-resistant forms of bacterial pathogens”. When a new antibiotic is introduced, it can have great, even life-saving results for a while. But as we start to use and overuse antibiotics in the treatment of humans, crops, and animals, the bacteria evolve, with those that have a mutation to survive the antibiotic becoming more dominant. Gradually, the antibiotic becomes less effective, and we’re left with a disease that we can no longer treat.
It is now evident that, industrialized form of animal farming is creating serious global problems such are climate change and global pandemics.
What is then the solution to these huge life-threatening modern phenomena? Michael Greger, the American physician, has perhaps the best suggestion: “Moving away from industrialized farming can reduce the likelihood of a zoonotic outbreak, but to really remove the threat, we should be accelerating the movement toward plant-based meat, milk, and egg products”.
In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic gained traction, the conservative magazine National Review mentioned that, “if you reflect on this issue with an open mind, you’ll agree that ending factory farms is a good idea”