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Is animal farming, eg mink, worth the risk of a global pandemic and the consequential human and economic devastation?

By Global Vegans

Is animal farming, eg mink, worth the risk of a global pandemic and the consequential human and economic devastation?

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.

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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