Intensive animal farming is the ‘single most risky human behavior for future pandemics’, according to a report released today.
The Food & Pandemics Report, produced by ProVeg International, calls for ‘urgent changes to the global food system in order to prevent future outbreaks’.
It has drawn support from inside the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Food system and zoonoses
The report presents the connection between our dietary choices and the global food system, and zoonoses like COVID-19 – i.e. diseases which are transmitted from non-human animals to humans, which make up about 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases.
It reveals the three ways our diet and food system drive zoonotic diseases through the destruction of animals’ natural habitats and loss of biodiversity, driven largely by animal agriculture, through the use of wild animals as food, and through the use of farmed animals as food in intensified animal agriculture.
The report notes that ‘although the origins of such outbreaks tend to be associated with wild animals, as is assumed with COVID-19, pathogens also jump from wild animals to farmed animals before being transmitted to humans – as was the case with recent pandemic threats such as avian flu and swine flu’.
‘A recipe for disaster’
In a statement sent to Plant Based News, Jens Tuider, international director of ProVeg International, and lead author of the report, said: “The recipe for disaster is surprisingly simple: one animal, one mutation, one human, and a single point of contact.
“We don’t yet know the full story about the emergence of COVID-19, but there is no uncertainty regarding swine flu and avian flu: those viruses evolved on factory farms, where conditions are perfect for the evolution and transmission of viruses, as well as for the development of antimicrobial resistance.
“Factory farms are perfect breeding grounds for future pandemics.”
‘So many reasons to move away’
Tuider added that there are ‘so many reasons to move away from intensively farming animals’ which include protecting animals and the environment, and combating antibiotic resistance.
“But mitigating the risk of the next pandemic, which could have an even more devastating impact than COVID-19, is perhaps the most persuasive reason of all,” he added. “Science clearly supports this, but is there enough political will?”
The report also ‘shines a light on climate change, which increases the risk of future pandemics, and antimicrobial resistance, which exacerbates their impact. Both are driven by our animal-based food system, the demand for which continues to grow rapidly. The report also touches on COVID-19’s impact on slaughterhouse workers’.
Discussing the data, Dr. Musonda Mumba, chief of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit of the UNEP, said: “The ProVeg report clearly demonstrates the connection between industrial animal production and the increased risk of pandemics. Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to jump from wild and domestic animals to people.”
Speaking about the recent COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-processing plants around the world, she said: “We have also seen in the last few months how industrial animal-production spaces have been spaces for the spread of COVID-19. Clearly this provides another opportunity for a rethink of our food systems as they relate to pandemics.”