South African researchers encourage meat reduction to prevent future pandemics
March 30, 2021
With the introduction of the vaccines as quick fix to recovering from COVID-19, many are forgetting to ask the question of why we are experiencing pandemics in the first place. ProVeg International released a Food & Pandemics Report in 2020 that details how previous pandemics were clearly interwoven with the animal-based food system. Very few institutions are raising awareness of this important topic, thus we were pleased to see researchers from the University of Free State, South Africa, commenting on the relationship between meat consumption and future pandemics.
Connecting pandemics and the food system
The global food production system evolves as a result of dynamic interactions between humans, microbes and animals that directly influence modern farming practices. The continuous increase in demand for animal products has seen a rapid increase in the industrialisation of meat production and more importantly, a shocking decrease in modern farming standards.
Human demands on the food production system is placing pressure on the natural environment. Intensification of animal agriculture, with resulting destruction of ecosystems and the use of wild animals for food has become a deadly combination driving zoonotic disease.
Pandemics are driven by pathogens from animals
Zoonoses are diseases of animal origin that spread to humans. Some of the most well-known zoonotic diseases include SARS, MERS, Ebola, rabies, and certain forms of influenza. Zoonotic diseases are responsible for an estimated 2.5 billion cases of illness and 2.7 million deaths worldwide each year.
Time magazine recently quoted biologist Rob Wallace saying “…near-nothing real was done about any of them.” with regards to the growing list of zoonotic diseases spilling over into the human population.
Learning from the Past
Handling, slaughtering or eating wild animals provides a gateway for novel pathogens. Examples include Ebola, HIV and COVID-19 reportedly originating from bats or pangolins. However, it is not only exotic eating practices that give ground to virus outbreaks.
Historical evidence shows that there is a strong link between past pandemic outbreaks and animal that are farmed for mainstream consumption. The Spanish Flu that took over the world in 1918 was ultimately traced back to pig farms and various strains of avian flu have at different times struck the global community.
South African researchers suggest reducing meat consumption to prevent future pandemics
A recently published article provided commentary from South African researchers from the University of Free State, Bloemfontein. Professor Aliza Le Roux, Assistant Dean of Agricultural Sciences and Associate Professor of Zoology and Entomology stressed that, “Our demand for meat is driving cheaper and less controlled agricultural practises, cramming more animals into smaller spaces, feeding them less and less natural fodder.”
She even suggested that decreasing meat consumption could be the key to preventing future pandemics, “If we could see eating meat as a “treat” and not a daily “right”, we can reduce pressure on the environment and reduce the speed at which other zoonotic diseases can evolve.”
Professor Bragg warns that without crucial systematic changes to the humans interact with animals, future pandemic outbreaks are inevitable.
Protect our planet from future pandemics
Scientific evidence supports the push for consuming less meat as a measure to decrease the negative impacts of animal agriculture on the environment. With nearly twice as much livestock than humans on the planet, the increasing numbers of animals confined in subpar conditions makes for a breeding ground of disease outbreaks that places humans at greater vulnerability to future pandemic outbreaks. This evidence suggests that if humans are to protect themselves from contracting infectious diseases from humans, the animals that sustain human life are to be protected from the farming practises that endanger the global food production system.
For more information on how the current food production system is fuelling pandemic outbreaks, see ProVeg’s Food and Pandemics Report here.