Animal agriculture causes pandemics and pandemonium.

Climate change, deforestation, ocean dead zones, wildlife habitat loss, overuse of resources and now pandemics. Animal agriculture is responsible for all of these, at least in part. So far we have resisted reducing our reliance on animal agriculture to help mitigate climate change. We have chosen to turn our heads at deforestation, ocean dead zones and habitat loss because we love the taste of steak and tuna. We squander so much land and water for needless animal production because we like cheese and couldn’t live without it. COVID-19 is not the first animal sourced virus to jump species to humans and it certainly will not be the last. Are we prepared to sacrifice our health and freedom for sausages?

Some 60% of human pathogens have animal origins, all due to contact with livestock, some 75% of new, emerging diseases come directly from animals, both domesticated and wild. These zoonotic diseases such as SARS, syphillis, MERS, HIV, ebola, swine flu, bird flu, Mad Cow Disease and so many more will continue to emerge. What started off as an animal virus jumped to us because of our use and exploitation of these animals. Such viruses are now passed human to human, some of them mutating along the way, making finding vaccines and cures problematic.

When we force animals into small cramped spaces for prolonged periods of time there is the opportunity for diseases to be harboured and passed on. Whether that is during rearing, transport to market or slaughter, or even at a market. Every country operates in this way, because our economic systems demand it. The large agriculture companies must squeeze every essence of profit from overburdened animal bodies and they care only for the bottom line. Smaller businesses still have to make profits and it is increasingly hard to do so and keep animal welfare standards high. Everyone suffers. People, the economy, the planet, the land, the waterways, public health and of course, the animals.

What we are witnessing is the result of our overreliance on animal production, of an apparently insatiable appetite for meat. The more contact we have with animals, the more we destroy their habitat and force them into closer living quarters with us, the more we keep animals cooped up in spaces too small, the more likely we are to be creating the next pandemic. So far the diseases from animals have come from bats, pigs, birds, pangolins, cows, camels, chimapanzees… actually, it’s quite a long list. The fact remains that while we continue to pour so many of our precious resources into an increasingly out of date industry, we risk everything. We are extremely fortunate in New Zealand to be so isolated from the rest of the world. Our distance and huge oceans have created a natural barrier to diseases in the past. Now, as before, when the incoming human populations brought introduced species, our travelling risks bringing unknown and new pathogens to our country.

Nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis, according to the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen. Leading scientists also said the Covid-19 outbreak was a “clear warning shot”, given that far more deadly diseases existed in wildlife, and that today’s civilisation was “playing with fire”. They said it was almost always human behaviour that caused diseases to spill over into humans. To prevent further outbreaks, the experts said, both global heating and the destruction of the natural world for farming, mining and housing have to end, as both drive wildlife into contact with people. The executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said the immediate priority was to protect people from the coronavirus and prevent its spread. “But our long-term response must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss,” she added.

This virus is not the first bringing deaths to humans from animals. Our daily consumption of animal products brings us plenty of death risks, from coronary heart disease, to cancers to type 2 diabetes, yet we seem unable to stop. Will a pandemic bring us to our senses finally?

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