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One Root Cause of Pandemics Few People Think About: The Insatiable Desire to Eat Meat

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You can only play viral Russian roulette for so long, which is why public health experts concerned about zoonotic diseases have for years been ringing the alarm about the industrial farming of animals.

PAUL SHAPIRO: It’s easy for those of us in the Western world to shake our heads at the live wildlife markets in China that appear to be the origin of the coronavirus pandemic now paralyzing the globe. Easy, that is, since such a practice is so literally quite foreign to us. (In their defense, at least, China has now banned such markets.) But what’s more difficult is to be honest with ourselves about what kinds of pandemics we may be brewing through own risky animal-use practices.

And while the new coronavirus, crippling as it is, might have a somewhat merciful case fatality rate (proportion of those infected who die) of less than 1 percent, we know that this catastrophe may be just a dress rehearsal for an even more serious pandemic that could take a more gruesome toll—akin to the 1918 global flu pandemic, which originated in Kansas and killed at least 50 million people.

When that day comes, it’s very likely that such a virus will also have its origin in humanity’s seemingly insatiable desire to eat animals, whether wild or domestic. The conditions in which we often farm animals today—crowding tens of thousands of animals wing-to-wing or snout-to-snout—serve as “amplifiers” for viral pandemics. Indeed, the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009 appears to have originated in a pig confinement operation in North Carolina.

And while the H5N1 bird flu outbreak in 1997 evidently originated in Chinese chicken farms (case fatality rate 60 percent), a similar bird flu in the U.S. just five years ago led American poultry farmers to kill tens of millions of their birds to contain the outbreak, which thankfully never made the jump into the human population. And at this very moment, both India and China have announced bird flu outbreaks among their chicken factories. Similarly, these are not yet affecting human health.

But you can only play viral Russian roulette for so long, which is why public health experts concerned about zoonotic diseases have for years been ringing the alarm about the industrial farming of animals. Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, calls factory farming a “perfect storm environment” for infectious diseases. “If you actually want to create global pandemics,” he warns, “then build factory farms”…

Yes, we humans may crave meat, but our conception of “meat” is now becoming far more diverse than in the past. Whereas “protein” was once synonymous with a hunk of flesh from a once-living animal’s body, today many Americans are embracing a type of protein diversity that celebrates meat from a variety of sources… There’s the success of plant-based meat alternatives… And then there’s the “cultivated meat” field, where start-ups… are growing real animal meat from animal cells rather than from animal slaughter… Yes, we should curb wildlife markets, but let’s not stop there. If we have the will to shut down our entire society for weeks on end, surely we have the will to slightly change our diets. SOURCE…

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