We have to wake up: factory farms are breeding grounds for pandemics

By Jonathan Safran Foer and Aaron S Gross: For More Info, Go Here…

Covid-19’s history is not yet fully known, but the links between animal and human health could not be clearer.

It can feel wrong, or simply impossible, to focus on anything other than getting through this most challenging moment. It is reasonable to argue that since lessons will not reduce our immediate suffering, we should learn them once we’re through this. But the vulnerability that makes the present so painful is exactly why some discussions cannot wait. The suffering we stand to reduce or increase by the threads of action that we begin to unwind now could be magnitudes of what we’re currently experiencing.

Imagine that while your country practised social distancing, your neighbouring country responded to Covid-19 by packing citizens into gymnasiums by the tens of thousands. Imagine if, in addition, they instituted genetic and pharmaceutical interventions that helped their citizens maintain productivity under such adverse conditions, even though this had the unfortunate side effect of devastating their immune systems. And to complete this dystopian vision, imagine if your neighbours simultaneously reduced their number of doctors tenfold. Such actions would radically increase death rates not only within their country, but yours. Pathogens do not respect national boundaries. They are not Spanish or Chinese.

Pathogens do not respect species boundaries, either. Influenza and coronaviruses move fluidly between human and animal populations, just as they move fluidly between nations. When it comes to pandemics, there is not animal health and human health – not any more than there is Korean health and French health. Social distancing works only when everyone practises it, and “everyone” includes animals.

The meat that we eat today overwhelmingly comes from genetically uniform, immunocompromised, and regularly drugged animals lodged by the tens of thousands into buildings or stacked cages – no matter how the meat is labelled. We know this, and most of us would strongly prefer it be otherwise. But we would prefer a lot of things in the world that aren’t so and, for most of us, the future of animal farming is low on our list of priorities, especially now. It is understandable to be most concerned with oneself. The problem is, we aren’t doing a good job of being selfish.

We don’t yet know the full history of the emergence of Covid-19, the particular strain of coronavirus that now threatens us. But with recent pandemic virus threats from influenza viruses such as H1N1 (swine flu) or H5N1 (bird flu) there is no ambiguity: those viruses evolved on chicken and pig factory farms. Genetic analyses have shown that crucial components of H1N1 emerged from a virus circulating in North American pigs. But it is commercial poultry operations that appear to be the Silicon Valley of viral development.

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