I it was bats. Or pangolins. To hear common tales about the origins of Covid-19, there is a simple causal relationship between China's consumption of wild animals and the coronavirusravaging the world.
Dr Anthony Fauci, America's Leading Epidemiologist, said to Fox:" It puzzles me how, when we have so many diseases that emanate from this unusual human-animal interface, we don't just shut it down. ”His opinion echoes a growing chorus across the political spectrum pointing to the so-called“ wet markets ”of the China as the culprit of the pandemic. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has called the Chinese exotic animal trade " disgusting "and environmentalist Jane Goodall has called for " a global ban ".
Science and political economy, however, tell a more complex story. The main driver of zoonotic diseases (such as the virus Sars-Cov-2, which spreads from animals to humans) is factory farming. When food production encroaches on wild habitats, it creates opportunities for pathogens to spread to livestock and humans. Industrial agriculture also breeds its own diseases, like swine flu and bird flu, in hellish factory farms. And it contributes to antibiotic resistance and climate change, which are making the problem worse.
We need to have an honest public discussion about how to produce our food. Individually we need to stop eating animal products. Collectively we need to transform the global food system and work to end it. 'agriculture animait and rewild much of the world. Oddly enough, many people who would never dispute the reality of climate change refuse to recognize the role that meat consumption plays in endangering public health. Eating meat, it seems, is a socially acceptable form of scientific denial.
Researchers have long issued warnings about the consequences of our food system dominated by cattle. After the Sars outbreak in 2003, an essay in the American Journal of Public Health lamented that" changing the way humans treat animals - more fundamentally, stop eating them or, at the very least, drastically limit their quantity that is eaten - is largely off the radar as an important preventive measure. In 2016, the NatUnited ions for the environment has warned that the "Livestock revolution was a looming zoonotic disaster.
Yet meat consumption continues to increase . Now, as the experts predicted, eating animals is come back and bite us .
Xenophobes call Covid-19 the“ Wuhan virus ”, but in reality zoonoses are emerging around the world and are doing so with increasing regularity. The "Spanish flu" of 1918 probably comes from a hog farm in the Midwest. In the 1990s, ecological destabilization in the southwestern United States led to the hanta epidemicFour Corners virus. The Hendra and Menangle viruses are named after Australian cities. The Reston virus is an Ebola strain named after a Washington suburb. The Marburg virus has appeared in Germany. The latter two diseases originate from monkeys imported for laboratory use - the Chinese are not the only ones with a large and dangerous trade in wildlife. Sars, Mers and Zika are just three of the many new zoonoses to strike over the new millennium.
Fauci, Graham and Goodall's call for a crackdown against the "exotic" animal trade is a valid demand, but ignores how this industry is inextricably linked with "conventional" food production. The Chinese government has encouraged smallholders to raise and obtain wild game to compensate for the lossrte of market share for the benefit of large livestock companies. Likewise, dependence on 'bushmeat' in West Africa increased after local fishermen were driven from coastal waters by foreign trawlers in the 1970s, resulting in HIV and Ebola epidemics. The problem is not some people's taste for seemingly bizarre delicacies, but our global, profit-driven, meat-centric food system.
Just as zoonotic threats increase, combating them becomes more and more difficult. Antibiotics are increasingly ineffective in part because commercial ranchers abuse them, in hopes of accelerating growth rates or as a prophylactic measure against the spread of disease on overcrowded factory farms. Overuse of antibiotics stimulates the evolution of "super-insects" like SARM, a flesh-eating bacterium now found in hospitals around the world. Modern solutions, like viral remedies and vaccines, are elusive. The World Health Organization reported that the most important techniques to control the epidemic of Sars 2003 weren't so much cutting edge drugs as "19th century public health strategies of contact tracing, quarantine and isolation". This has also been the case with Covid-19.
Our short-term priority is the development of a vaccine against Covid-19. But we also need to start thinking about more radical measures to tackle the roots of this crisis. We need a systeme food more resilient and less stressful for the planet and public health.
This requires three interventions. The first is to end subsidies for factory farming and tax animal products to incorporate the cost of environmental and public health externalities, with the aim of eventually abolishing the industry.
The second, support for local and sustainable plant agriculture to replace the status quo based on monoculture. We need to ease the pressure on soils and wildlife while creating better and more secure agricultural jobs. (We must also remember that meat packaging workers, like their peers in wet markets, tend to be the first to be exposed to new pathogens.)
The third is large-scale, public investment in plant-based meat substitutes andcell farming (i.e. the cultivation of animal tissue from stem cells), which would expand scientific research and employment while stimulating a transition to animal-free proteins.
The post-meat age will be healthier. Between agriculture, animal husbandry and fodder crops, the livestock industry swallows up 40% of the world's living space. A vegan food system would require a tenth as much land. Restoring the natural environment could also create jobs through a public works program similar to the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps. And that would reduce the outbreak of new epidemics by reducing contact between humans and wildlife and restoring biodiversity.
Old habits can change. In recent weeks, as the coronavirus has spread and millionspeople shelter in place, bean sales have overloaded . People, it seems, are ready to eat pulses if it's part of a public health effort. When this pandemic ends, they will have to keep doing just that, lest a more deadly catastrophe happen.
- Jan Dutkiewicz is the Connie Caplan Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
- Astra Taylor is the most recent author of Democracy May Not Exist, but Well Miss It When It 's Gone
- Troy Vettese is environmental historian and William Lyon Mackenzie King associate researcher at Harvard University