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Is Animal Farming Worth the Risk of a Global Pandemic?

Is Animal Farming Worth the Risk of a Global Pandemic?

The repercussions of our abuse of nonhuman animals and the natural world extend far beyond the lives of those animals and our shared environment. The United Nations states that the two biggest threats to global human health and survival are climate change and pandemics, and animal agriculture is undeniably a huge contributor to both of these. It has become widely accepted that adopting a vegan lifestyle has the potential to alleviate many aspects of climate change, and the unfolding events of 2020 are increasingly proving that our relationship with the natural world needs to go back to the drawing board.

So the question is: Is Animal Farming Worth the Risk of a Global Pandemic?

Not long after the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Western world the correlation between animal farming and the spread of zoonotic diseases began to circulate in mainstream media with articles surprisingly advocating in favour of changing our global food system. News publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian shared headlines such as "Tofu sales skyrocket during the pandemic, as consumers search for affordable meat alternatives" and "The Covid-19 pandemic shows we must transform the global food system".

The common narratives about the origins of the pandemic have always circled back to the Chinese exotic animal trade, with many Westerners being quick to label it barbaric and unnecessary. As easy as it is to take the moral high ground, we must face the uncomfortable truth that the principal driver of zoonotic diseases is industrial animal agriculture, independent of where it takes place or the animals in question. We only need look as far as the recent pandemic virus threats from influenza viruses such as H1N1 (swine flu) or H5N1 (bird flu).

While many are eagerly anticipating the end of the current pandemic and regaining a sense of normality, others - perhaps more with a more sober realism - are bracing for other, perhaps more deadly, strains of the coronavirus or another zoonotic disease which could originate from any facility in any country where animals are industrially farmed.

The recent mutation of Covid-19 that has emerged amongst farmed mink in Denmark has proven that mutations can occur in this virus, particularly if it's associated with coming from other intermediate animals. These mutations worryingly can affect the immune profile of the virus, meaning it may threaten the effectiveness of future vaccines.

Before the pandemic, the Netherlands was already in the process of stopping intensive mink farming. Denmark’s decision to cull its entire population of up to 17m mink was initially proposed by the Danish government and health authorities as a bold measure to stop the Scandinavian country being the epicentre of the new wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The cull has sent the country into legal, political, scientific and logistical turmoil as the Danish Government later admitted that it did not have a legal basis to order the killing of the mink. Many mink farmers are now in a state of limbo and the general consensus is that there is almost no hope of ever reviving the industry. According to the Financial Times more than two-thirds of Danish mink have been killed as of the 13th of November.

Although some have expressed sympathy for the farmers in question, others see the death of the industry as a matter of progress towards animal justice and step in the right direction with regards to lowering the risk of future pandemics.

The outbreak in Danish mink farms also helps with recognising that the origin of these issues isn't as geographically exotic as we once liked to think, at least from a Western perspective. The ideology and mindset that abuses the natural world and its nonhuman inhabitants is truly global, and it is one that we each have a role in rewriting should we ever want to achieve any semblance of a secure future.


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