A new report from Harvard Law School and New York University has found that the next global pandemic could originate from the meat industry in the United States.
Many diseases, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, SARS and COVID-19, have originated from human use of animals and there is a high risk that the next major pandemic will have its origins in the animal agriculture industry.
The report exposes the vast scale of animal use, particularly animal agriculture, which poses serious threats of zoonotic disease.
The report warns that both small- and large-scale animal production operations contribute to the risk of zoonotic outbreaks. Small-scale producers often have lower biosecurity and they increase risk by having multiple species at the same location. Large-scale operations, which focus on a single species, present a much larger risk because these stressful environments can compromise an animal's immune system, making them more susceptible to infection which can then be passed on to humans.
The report also warns of the powerful animal agriculture lobby groups, saying "animal agriculture in the United States is highly concentrated in the hands of a few corporations, who wield enormous financial power. Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS S.A., and Smithfield Foods collectively control over 80% of cow slaughtering and processing in the United States. JBS and Smithfield together control 63% of pig slaughtering and processing, while a similar few companies produce over 60% of American poultry products." The position is similar in Australia, where the top five red meat processors account for approximately half of production and the two largest chicken processors supply approximately 70% of the market.
Finally, the report warns that the animal agriculture industry is causing a rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, another way the industry heightens the risk of zoonotic disease. "Overuse of antibiotics, which are fed prophylactically to livestock, drives the development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria and renders these same medicines ineffective for treating disease in humans. Roughly 70% of medically important antibiotics used in the United States are fed to livestock. In addition, animal agriculture reduces biodiversity and contributes substantially to climate change, which may serve as a threat multiplier for zoonotic outbreaks."
We can help prevent the future spread of new zoonotic diseases by phasing out the production and consumption of animal products. Governments should recognise the underlying cause of these diseases and take urgent action. We now know that rapid change is possible: the governments of the world reacted within weeks and months of the first case of COVID-19. This shows that governments can act quickly and strongly and they should put the same effort into phasing out animal agriculture and educating the public about alternatives to animal products.
Individuals can help too, by going vegan and letting everyone know that animal use and exploitation is the cause of so much disease. These diseases would not exist if the world was vegan.
- Animal Markets and Zoonotic Disease in the United States, Animal Law & Policy Program, Harvard Law School
- Harvard Report: US Meat Supply Could Start the Next Global Pandemic, Truthout
- Coronavirus and other diseases caused by animal farming and hunting, Vegan Australia
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