The writer is a volunteer with The Humane League, an animal rights organization that is affiliated with Veganuary.
As COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed throughout the USA and Americans finally look forward to the day they can return to their ordinary, pandemic-free lifestyles, it becomes crucially important that people take the necessary precautions to prevent potentially more contagious and lethal viruses from emerging in the future.
Some significant but severely overlooked contributors to future pandemic risk are the unhygienic practices of factory farming industries throughout the nation.
Factory farming is a common practice of intensive animal farming where hundreds or even thousands of animals are confined and raised in small buildings so as to maximize meat production while minimizing costs. As much as 99% of farmed animals in the USA suffer under the horrific conditions of factory farms. These farms provide little to no natural sunlight for animals to receive, provide subpar nutrition and water for the animals, and prevent animals from ever being able to roam freely on natural grassland as they innately desire.
In addition to being unethical due to the miserable conditions animals in these farms have to suffer through, factory farms provide the breeding grounds for new virus outbreaks. According to a joint consultation by the World Health Organization, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the World Organization for Animal Health, the number one underlying cause of the outbreak of new zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 is the increasing demand for animal protein. This is because zoonotic viruses are infectious diseases that arise from a pathogen mutating and jumping from animal to human.
The highly unsanitary, cramped conditions of factory farms allow viruses to spread freely from animal to animal, mutate, and eventually infect humans. This same method of virus transmission is responsible for the H5N1 flu outbreak that was transmitted from poultry to humans in 1997, the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009 which originated in an industrial pig farm in North Carolina, the Nipah virus which transmitted from pigs to humans, and many more historical viral outbreaks.
As the CDC estimates that over 60% of known infectious diseases are zoonotic, it is vital that we eliminate unhygienic factory farming practices that pose a significant risk of transmitting these diseases. Unfortunately, the increasing global prevalence of factory farms due to the growing demand for meat in developing nations such as China and India makes it increasingly likely that the world will eventually endure another infectious disease outbreak if our eating habits do not change.
As another step toward achieving global public health, it is crucial that we leave meat off our plates and stop supporting shameful factory farming industries that increase our likelihood of having to face future pandemics. By changing our eating habits, we can help tackle this grave issue. Pledge to eat vegan this January by signing up for Veganuary at the site below, and help to promote a healthy, pandemic-free future.