This article from Scientific American raises the question that a major causes of pandemics might be the factory farming of animals. The conditions that animals are often farmed in today, crowding tens of thousands of animals together, might just serve as “amplifiers” for viral pandemics. The article states:
Indeed, the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009 appears to have originated in a pig confinement operation in North Carolina. And while the H5N1 bird flu outbreak in 1997 evidently originated in Chinese chicken farms (case fatality rate 60 percent), a similar bird flu in the U.S. just five years ago led American poultry farmers to kill tens of millions of their birds to contain the outbreak, which thankfully never made the jump into the human population…
But you can only play viral Russian roulette for so long, which is why public health experts concerned about zoonotic diseases have for years been ringing the alarm about the industrial farming of animals. Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, calls factory farming a “perfect storm environment” for infectious diseases. “If you actually want to create global pandemics,” he warns, “then build factory farms.”
An American Public Health Association journal editorial observed: “It is curious, therefore, that changing the way humans treat animals—most basically, ceasing to eat them or, at the very least, radically limiting the quantity of them that are eaten—is largely off the radar as a significant preventive measure.” Which is true- it was certainly off my radar. I am very much a meat eater, although lately, because of my heart disease and pre-diabetic condition, I am trying to cut back the amount of meat-centered meals in our house. I’ve been largely unsuccessful, although I have substituted chicken and fish for beef and pork to a certain extent. But chicken is not a good substitute as this article notes that factory farming of chickens constitute some of the worst abuses.
I’m well aware of the environmental problems associated with CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) including noxious odors and manure waste discharge. CAFOs are regulated in Indiana, although according to some, not very well. But it had not occurred to me until I read this article how our mass-raising and slaughtering of animals for food could be the start of the next big global pandemic. So the Scientific American article suggests:
Diversifying our methods of meat production would not only offer us a chance to reduce pandemic risk by cutting down the number of live animals we must raise for food, but it also could help mitigate numerous other risks as well. Whether the concern is climate change, antibiotic resistance, deforestation, animal welfare or more, the benefits of broadening our protein portfolio are manifold.
There is no way I’m going totally vegan anytime soon. But I really need to seriously research some vegan recipes and make at least two nights a week a meat-free dinner. Gotta start somewhere… Food for thought, right?