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WICKED TRANSGRESSIONS: What the COVID-19 crisis is telling humanity

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Intensive confinement of animals in factory farm operations should be discontinued worldwide for the sake of animals, humans, and the environment, and we should rapidly evolve to eating plant-based and cultured meat.

DAVID O. WIEBERS & VALERY L. FEGIN: The world is enveloped in a global health emergency that is exacting enormous medical and economic tolls upon humanity… The medical community finds itself on the front lines throughout the world dealing with the immediate human health consequences of this rapidly evolving crisis and trying to develop therapies and vaccines, as countries and their leaders attempt to mitigate the overwhelming societal and economic devastations that are unfolding…

Yet, in the midst of all of the pandemonium and destruction, and as we begin to find our way through this crisis, it is imperative for us as a society and species to focus and reflect deeply upon what this and other related human health crises are telling us about our role in these increasingly frequent events and about what we can do to avoid them in the future. Failure to do so may result in the unwitting extermination of all or a good part of our species from this planet. Although it is tempting for us to lay the blame for pandemics such as COVID-19 on bats, pangolins, or other wild species, it is human behavior that is responsible for the vast majority of zoonotic diseases that jump the species barrier from animals to humans.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observes that “…3 in every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.” These infections are caused not only by viruses but also by bacteria, fungi, and parasites from a variety of animal sources. The alarming increase in frequency of these lethal zoonotic diseases relates in large part to our human-dominated ecosystem with increasingly unnatural human-animal close contact, grossly aberrant crowding of animals for human purposes, destruction of animal habitats, and vast numbers of highly mobile humans to swiftly carry these diseases throughout the world…

The hunting, capturing, and selling of wild animals for human consumption, particularly in connection with live-animal markets, clearly constitute major public health risks. Continuing these practices will assure further human health crises with potentially even greater destructive power in the future. Another well-recognized source for increasingly lethal human zoonoses is the massive overcrowding of animals for human consumption in industrial “factory farm” environments − also known as concentrated animal feeding operations.

Over the last 40 years, as the factory farm model has become a global phenomenon, a host of avian influenza (bird flu) viruses, including H5N1, have emerged in countries with large-scale industrial poultry operations. Intensive confinement of unprecedented numbers of chickens in these facilities to lower cost has provided a fertile ground for the development of an ever-increasing supply of new pathogens. And while bird flu was once a very rare disease among chickens, today we see outbreaks occurring every year. Transmission of these diseases from chickens to humans was almost nonexistent 25 years ago; now serious outbreaks are occurring regularly − more in the past 15 years than in the entire 20th century…

The large-scale confinement of animals for human consumption has also played a major direct role in another ongoing health crisis in the USA and around the world − antibiotic resistance. Nearly 80% of the antibiotics sold in the USA are now used for livestock feed to prevent disease and promote growth. Intensive confinement operations require more antibiotics than family farms, and if the bacteria that naturally exist in these animals acquire antibiotic resistance genes, treatment becomes ineffective. This circumstance constitutes a threat not only to animal health but also to human health…

One further fundamental source for the increasing threat of pandemics and other human health crises is habitat destruction. Vast numbers of wildlife species are threatened with extinction from cutting down forests and expanding urban areas and industrial activities. The survivors are forced into closer proximity to themselves and humans, increasing the likelihood of transforming what would otherwise be benign animal microbes into deadly human pathogens. To compound the issue, much of the land that is being lost to deforestation is being converted to land for raising more animals for human consumption.

Our species has come to the edge of the cliff on these issues, and the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to make a choice between either changing our thinking and practices in these realms, or facing increasing destruction and perhaps self-annihilation… Rather than simply attempting to react to crises like COVID-19 after death and destruction are already upon us, we need to have the vision, wisdom, and compassion to address fundamental underlying causes and act now to mitigate and prevent the numerous disasters that are literally waiting to happen…

Intensive confinement of animals in factory farm operations should be discontinued worldwide for the sake of animals, humans, and the environment, and we should rapidly evolve to eating other forms of protein that are safer for humans, including plant-based meat alternatives and cultured meat (produced by culturing animal cells). Additional investment in plant-based agriculture to grow crops to feed humans rather than livestock for human consumption would feed more people while utilizing far less land and water, allowing for the preservation of vital ecosystems for innumerable species.

The time has come for us to rethink our relationship with all life on this planet − other humans, nonhumans, and the earth, a life form in itself. What is good for nonhumans and the earth is virtually always in the best interests of humans, given the profound interconnectedness of all life. All that we do depends upon abundant plant and animal life as well as clean air and water.

Each of us can have a positive impact upon these fundamentals by demonstrating and inspiring an enhanced mindfulness, beginning most basically with what we eat and how all of our daily choices and actions may be affecting animals and natural habitats. Ultimately, the survival, not only of other life forms on this planet, but also of our own, will depend upon humanity’s ability to recognize the oneness of all that exists and the importance and deeper significance of compassion for all life. SOURCE…

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