In the last article, we explored the impact of Covid-19 on housing. Now, let’s look at food—since food, clothing, and shelter are considered our most basic material needs. We tend to feel superior, thinking these diseases are the fault of people who eat exotic animals, but don’t feel so uppity. Our farm animals may be an even greater danger.
Gizmodo says, “Animal Agriculture Could Cause the Next Public Health Crisis.”
Covid-19 is a zoonotic virus, meaning it spread to humans from animals. Scientists aren’t sure which animal spread it to us, though they think snakes or bats might have via pangolins. But it’s not just exotic, wild animals that spread diseases. New research shows the next global public health crisis could come to us through industrial animal agriculture.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, shows that contemporary farming methods—including the overuse of antibiotics, high numbers of animals crammed into small spaces, and a lack of genetic diversity—make it more likely that pathogens will spread to people from farm animals and create an epidemic for humans.
ScienceDaily says the same industrial techniques that have brought us so much food, may also be our undoing.
Overuse of antibiotics, high animal numbers and low genetic diversity caused by intensive farming techniques increase the likelihood of pathogens becoming a major public health risk, according to new research led by UK scientists.
The authors of the study suggest that changes in cattle diet, anatomy and physiology triggered gene transfer between general and cattle-specific strains with significant gene gain and loss. This helped the bacterium to cross the species barrier and infect humans, triggering a major public health problem.
Combine this with the increased movement of animals globally, intensive farming practices have provided the perfect environment in which to spread globally through trade networks.
LifeGate says “new” pathogens are increasingly coming from animals to humans.
Animals can sometimes carry harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi that spread to people and cause illnesses which are known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses. Around 60 per cent of all known infectious diseases in humans are of this type, as are 75 per cent of emerging ones according to a 2016 UN report.
the world has already seen millions of deaths in the past due to the consumption of and contact with animals. Starting with three pandemics that have emerged since 2000, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, swine flu (H1N1) in 2009 and now the disease Covid-19 caused by the virus Sars-CoV-2. . .
Other than these, there have also been outbreaks of bird flu (avian influenza) from poultry, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) first transmitted from camels, Ebola from monkeys and pigs, Rift Valley fever from livestock, West Nile fever from birds, Zika from monkeys and Nipah from bats and pigs. The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is widely thought to have originated from the consumption of bush meat.
In fact, The Guardian says even the current virus can be blamed on industrial farming.
Let’s start at the beginning. As of 17 March, we know that the Sars-CoV-2 virus (a member of the coronavirus family that causes the respiratory illness Covid-19) is the product of natural evolution. A study of its genetic sequence, conducted by infectious disease expert Kristian G Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and colleagues, rules out the possibility that it could have been manufactured in a lab or otherwise engineered. Puff go the conspiracy theories. The next step is a little less certain. . .
Starting in the 1990s, as part of its economic transformation, China ramped up its food production systems to industrial scale. One side effect of this, as anthropologists Lyle Fearnley and Christos Lynteris have documented, was that smallholding farmers were undercut and pushed out of the livestock industry. Searching for a new way to earn a living, some of them turned to farming “wild” species that had previously been eaten for subsistence only. Wild food was formalised as a sector, and was increasingly branded as a luxury product. But the smallholders weren’t only pushed out economically. As industrial farming concerns took up more and more land, these small-scale farmers were pushed out geographically too – closer to uncultivable zones. Closer to the edge of the forest, that is, where bats and the viruses that infect them lurk. The density and frequency of contacts at that first interface increased, and hence, so did the risk of a spillover.
It’s true, in other words, that an expanding human population pushing into previously undisturbed ecosystems has contributed to the increasing number of zoonoses – human infections of animal origin – in recent decades. That has been documented for Ebola and HIV, for example. But behind that shift has been another, in the way food is produced. Modern models of agribusiness are contributing to the emergence of zoonoses.
Take flu, a disease that is considered to have high pandemic potential, having caused an estimated 15 pandemics in the past 500 years. “There is clearly a link between the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses and intensified poultry production systems,” says spatial epidemiologist Marius Gilbert of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.
Vox says you don’t have to eat bats or snakes to face a virus threat—the meat you eat is also a danger.
The way people eat all around the world — including in the US — is a major risk factor for pandemics, too. That’s because we 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 — and around 99 percent of America’s meat — animals are tightly packed together and live under harsh and unsanitary conditions.
“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,“ said Michael Greger, the author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching. . .
We know from past experience that farmed animals can lead to serious zoonotic diseases (those transmitted from animals to humans). Just think back to 2009, when the H1N1 swine flu circulated in pig farms in North America, then jumped to humans. That novel influenza quickly became a global pandemic, killing hundreds of thousands of people.
As Old MacDonald might say, “Ee-aye-ee-aye-oh, no!”