We are still shy with the one that has come down on us because of covid-19 when some warn us that this painful history of global epidemics has only just begun. Proveg International launched last week a pandemic and food report where it is affirmed that the ideal conditions exist for other viruses to spread from wild or domesticated animals to men and therefore sadly repeat history. Or its outcome is even worse: the new disease proves even more deadly. The document has received the support of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
And in the focus of this drama, factory farms and our food system, which places great importance on the consumption of animal protein. In the foreword of the report Peter Singer, a philosopher and professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, says that eating meat from factory farms “has always been immoral because of what they do to them.” Since we have known about climate change, the option is doubly immoral because we burden the planet. And since the outbreak of COVID-19, the consumption of this type of meat is triply immoral, according to Singer, because it constitutes “a serious risk to our own survival.” Avian flu and swine fever were the prelude to alarm signals, signals that we could not decipher in time.
Specifically, what favors this deadly cocktail within our food system are three mutually reinforcing factors, according to the report:
1) The destruction of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity, largely promoted by livestock.
2) The use of wild animals as part of the diet.
3) The use of farm animals as food (in intensive livestock).
Globally, more than 70% of antibiotics are used in intensive livestock farming, for animals, and not for humans. This use drastically reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics intended for us, thus increasing the overall risk to human health and increasing the burden on health systems, especially during a pandemic.
Zoonotic diseases cause more deaths globally than diabetes and traffic accidents combined
According to the report of Proveg International, “The risk of future outbreaks and the severity of their impact increase with the increase in demand for animal products in today’s globalized world.” And that growing demand is going to be absorbed by the same supplier: it is estimated that industrial farms and fish farms represent more than 90% of global meat and fish production.
In fact, zoonotic diseases – transmitted from animals to humans— they already cause more deaths globally than diabetes and road accidents combined. The fatality rate of covid-19 (4.7%) makes it 47 times more lethal than the common flu, still far from the highest rates of other zoonotic diseases, such as the H5N1 avian flu, which reaches 60%.
According to experts, future outbreaks can be more lethal and also more frequent. If the fatality rate of a future global zoonotic outbreak were similar to that of Ebola, H5N1 or the 1918 flu, its effects would certainly exceed any existing infrastructure. It would no longer be questions such as whether there will be enough ventilators and intensive care units, but questions such as whether there will be enough health personnel capable of continuing to do their work.
The conclusion of all this is an urgent call to modify our food system, substituting animal products for plant alternatives. Not only would future pandemics be prevented, but other open global fronts would also be fought in the process, such as climate change, world hunger and growing resistance to antibiotics. So the question looms: would you stop eating (industrial) meat for all these reasons?