Anti-Pandemic Diet

The purpose of Anti-Pandemic Diet is to inform the public about the connection between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and our dietary behavior. Pandemics are often caused by what we eat and exacerbated by our dietary behavior. This is certainly true when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic we are currently facing. This page will be updated daily to reflect the new occurrences of coronavirus outbreaks in meat packing facilities. Moreover, the list of relevant op-eds/opinion pieces about the connection between pandemics and the consumption of animals will be updated daily.

The source of pandemics

Many pandemics and major disease outbreaks can be traced back to the consumption of animals. For instance:

  • AIDS came from the use of chimpanzees for food.

  • SARS came from the use of bats for food.

  • Bird Flu came from poultry farms.

  • Swine Flu came from the use of pigs for food.

  • Mad Cow Disease came from eating cows.

  • Coronavirus is suspected to have been caused by eating bats and/or pangolins.

On July 6th, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Livestock Research Institute published a report titled Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission. This report identifies "seven trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, including increased demand for animal protein; a rise in intense and unsustainable farming; the increased use and exploitation of wildlife."

Live Animal Markets (i.e., "wet markets")

The coronavirus is thought to have its origin in China’s live-animal markets, also known as “wet markets.” At these open-air sites, many different species of animals, including both wild and domestic animals, are sold for food and many are butchered on site. Live animals are kept in cramped cages awaiting their slaughter, surrounded by the heart-wrenching screams of the other animals who are butchered on site. Because animals in wet markets are extremely stressed and in close contact with all different kinds of animals and humans, the risk of disease transmission is especially high. According to Biologist Kevin Olival, "the stress of captivity in these chaotic markets weakens the animals' immune systems and creates an environment where viruses from different species can mingle, swap bits of their genetic code and spread from one species to another."

Moreover, wet markets are incredibly unsanitary. As a reporter from NPR who has witnessed wet markets in live action reports, "the countertops of the stalls are red with blood as fish are gutted and filleted right in front of the customers' eyes. Live turtles and crustaceans climb over each other in boxes...There's lots of water, blood, fish scales and chicken guts. Things are wet. "

Indeed, as Animal Equality notes, "wet markets get their name in part from the blood, guts, scales and water that soak the stalls’ floors." Essentially, in wet markets, stressed, injured, and sick animals are crowded together in contaminated environments, surrounded by on-site butchering, blood, feces, and "fresh" animal carcasses- a recipe for disease outbreak. These markets create breeding grounds for "viruses and bacteria to thrive and move from host to host, animal to human."

Note that there are hundreds of wet markets in the United States, such as this wet market in New York.

Disease on "Conventional" Farms

It is not surprising that the coronavirus spread from animals, given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.” Wet markets, though, are not the only places that are susceptible to outbreaks of zoonotic disease, i.e., diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans. Zoonotic diseases are often transferred to humans when we use “conventional” farming practices to raise, kill, and consume domesticated livestock, such as pigs, cows, and chickens for food. For instance, the bird flu (originated in chicken farms) and the swine flu (originated in pig farms) are two examples of human diseases that are attributed to the use of animals in "conventional" food production systems, such as the food production systems used in the United States.

Animals on factory farms, like animals sold in wet markets, are especially susceptible to disease due to the stressful and unsanitary conditions to which they are subject. As it is widely known, stress weakens the immune systems of animals, making them more susceptible to viruses and other pathogens. And the animals raised and killed for food on factory farms aren’t frolicking in the pasture, calmly awaiting the day they will be hauled off to slaughter. Rather, the painful mutilations, intensive confinement, and overcrowding to which they are subject leads to a level of stress that neither you nor I can even fathom.

Moreover, farmed animals normally live in filthy, overcrowded sheds, surrounded by their own waste and the waste of other animals. They are moreover deprived of fresh air and continuously exposed to air pollutants. As internationally recognized public health expert Michael Greger puts it, this results in a “perfect-storm environment for the emergence and spread of disease.”

The exacerbation of pandemics

Meatpacking Facilities are Coronavirus "Hotspots"

Diseases like the coronavirus spread rapidly from human to human when people are in prolonged, close contact with one another. This is why places like prisons, nursing homes, and meatpacking facilities have been identified as major coronavirus "hotspots." At meatpacking facilities, employees work long hours in close proximity to one another, typically standing elbow-to-elbow while cutting, deboning and packing animal flesh. Consequently, as of July 15th, at least 35,386 meatpacking employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 148 meatpacking facility workers have died. But note that these numbers are likely much higher, given that meatpacking employees and meatpacking facilities tend to underreport illnesses and health official from some states, including Nebraska and North Carolina, aren't reporting the number of coronavirus cases linked to meatpacking facilities. Relatedly, 171 USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service employees were recently absent from work due to a Covid-19 diagnosis, and four have died.

Click here for a state-by-state and country-by-country reporting of coronavirus outbreaks in meatpacking facilities.

Animal Farming Facilities and Antibiotic Resistance

Because animals on factory farms are housed in overcrowded and filthy environments, they are especially vulnerable to disease. Farmers thus routinely pump animals full of antibiotics in an attempt to prevent them from becoming sick (note: antibiotics are supposed to be used to treat illness, and not prevent it). In fact, 70 percent of all "medically important" antibiotics in the U.S. are used on farms. The overuse of antibiotics on animal farms leads to antibiotic resistance, which makes dealing with disease outbreaks even more challenging, insofar as antibiotic resistance can cause important drugs to be ineffective in humans who need them. The overuse of antibiotics on animal farms also contributes to the emergence of "superbugs," also known as multi-drug resistant bacteria, which are resistant to most known antibiotics. Here are some important statistics about superbugs:

  • Currently, more than 700,000 people die from multi-drug resistant disease each year (worldwide).

  • A report by the UN Ad Hoc Interagency Coordinating Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, led by the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health, predicts that, by 2050, 10 million people each year will die from multi-drug resistant bacteria.

  • According to a 2019 study, there is a rising number of antibiotic resistance cases among farmed animals throughout the world.

Take the Pledge to Take Pandemics off Your Plate!