New report finds intensive animal farming is the 'single most risky human behaviour' for pandemics

New report finds intensive animal farming is the ‘single most risky human behaviour’ for pandemics

Read Time:   |  16th July 2020

A new report from ProVeg International is calling for urgent changes to the global food system to prevent future pandemics

ProVeg International has released a major new report, the Food & Pandemics Report, which identifies the ‘eating and farming of animals as the single most risky human behaviour in relation to pandemics’.

The report comes after leading doctors called on the UK public to stop eating meat if we are to avoid future global health disasters.

The United Nations (UN) has also recently published a new report that sets out ways to prevent future pandemics, listing intensive farming as a risk factor.

The hard-hitting report has drawn support from leading medical professionals as well as from inside the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

In a statement sent to Vegan Food & Living, 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.”

Zoonotic diseases 

The Food & Pandemics Report uncovers the link between our dietary choices and the global food system, citing them as key drivers of zoonoses (diseases such as COVID-19, which are transmitted from non-human animals to humans) in three clear and mutually reinforcing ways:

  1. Through the destruction of animals’ natural habitats and loss of biodiversity, driven largely by animal agriculture.
  2. Through the use of wild animals as food.
  3. Through the use of farmed animals as food in intensified animal agriculture.

According to the report, a worrying 75% of all emerging infectious diseases, which include SARS, MERS, Ebola, rabies, and certain forms of influenza are zoonotic in nature.

Zoonotic diseases are responsible for an estimated 2.5 billion cases of illness and 2.7 million deaths worldwide, every year making this a cause for concern.

Although the origins of such outbreaks are more often associated with wild animals, as is assumed with COVID-19, pathogens can also transfer from wild animals over to farmed animals before being transmitted to humans – as was the case with recent pandemic threats such as avian flu and swine flu.

‘Recipe for disaster’

Lead author of the report and International Director of ProVeg International, Jens Tuider, said that farming animals so intensively in poor conditions was a ‘recipe for disaster’.

Speaking about the link between previous pandemics and animal farming, Tuider 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.

“There are so many reasons to move away from intensively farming animals – to tackle the climate crisis, to protect the environment, to combat antibiotic resistance, to protect our health, and for the welfare of animals. 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. Science clearly supports this, but is there enough political will?”

Dr Mumba, in response to the recent COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-processing plants around the world, which have seen closures in the UK, the US and Germany, added: “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.”

Climate change

The report states that both climate change and zoonotic diseases are both ‘driven by our animal-based food system’ noting that the demand for which is growing rapidly.

The report examines the damaging effect on climate change, which accounts for about 16% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, as this contributes to the increased transmission of pathogens from host animals to humans.

This, in turn, increases the risk of future pandemics, and antimicrobial resistance, exacerbating their impact.

The full report can be found at proveg.com/food-and-pandemics-report

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