Are we risking creating the mother of all pandemics?April 1st, 2020
We are in new territory. In New Zealand, we are working together as a country to stop the spread of COVID-19. With the decisive and compassionate guidance of our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, I think we are doing all the right things.
But once this pandemic is under control, it will be time to take a cold, hard look at the source of this and so many other animal-borne diseases. We need to prevent not just something like this happening again, but potentially a virus that creates the mother of all pandemics.
Disease outbreaks such as the one that has caused COVID-19 can come from the very food we eat – a direct consequence of using animals for food.
Intensive farms are the perfect place to incubate disease. With high numbers of animals, often tens of thousands, confined closely together, coupled with the low genetic diversity of these animals, disease can easily run rampant. Living in a state of severe stress weakens their immune systems further. All of these conditions, when taken together, favours the mutation of new viruses, which can then cross the species barrier.
The perfect example of this risk is the way in which the vast majority of the 125 million chickens bred for meat every year in New Zealand are kept. They’re forced to spend their six-week lives crammed in a shed with up to forty thousand genetically similar birds. They stand on a floor of litter and faeces, which is not cleaned out until they are taken to be killed.
Compounding this risk, when two viruses infect an animal, their genetic material can interact and combine in new ways. If one virus is highly infectious and the other very deadly, and the resultant new virus manages to cross the species barrier, we could have something potent enough to wipe out most of humanity. Without wanting to sound alarmist, if we carry on with the intensive farming practices we have here and overseas, this doomsday scenario isn’t so much a case of whether it will happen, but when!
It’s time to learn from the mistakes of the past and present. The solution requires bold action – a phase out of animal farming, with farmers being supported and re-trained for a transition to a plant-based primary sector.
Read more about the link between intensive farming and the risk to human health.
Take the Eat Kind plant-based challenge, and be a part of the solution.
Learn more about the treatment of chickens bred for meat.
Learn more about mother pigs confined in crates so small they cannot turn around
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