The transition to small-scale farming is not enough to stop the development of zoonotic diseases linked to factory farms. A report by Cambridge University researchers recently published in the Royal Society Open Science states that there are no safe animal husbandry practices to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease, which means that the only effective method to curb the spread of disease is to minimize meat consumption. The report notes that reducing meat consumption presents major challenges, but it remains the best solution.
Factory farming is constantly criticized for its unsafe production practices, often housing thousands of animals in closed and unsanitary conditions. These conditions often increase the risk of developing infectious diseases, but some breeding companies have tried to readjust the scale of their production facilities. This new study debunks this new practice as ineffective in reducing the risk of zoonotic disease.
Pandemics of animal origin have their origins in the current structure of global food production systems. The report points out that the giants of animal agriculture avoid improving the living conditions of animals and that the pathogens which are unleashed frequently transform themselves, creating viruses that threaten humans.
“We identify significant gaps in knowledge for all potential risk factors and argue that these gaps in understanding mean that we cannot currently determine whether lower or higher performance systems would better limit the risk of future pandemics” , concludes the report. “These shortcomings should, we believe, serve as a call to action.”
Researchers compared the difference between low-yield and high-yield farms to determine if low-yield farming would help reduce environmental damage and the risk of zoonotic diseases. The team found that low-yielding, less-intensive farms would present greater challenges to the environment, disrupting wildlife and increasing contact between wildlife, humans and livestock. The researchers also pointed out that the meat industry produces four times more than in the 1960s.
“One proposed approach to reduce the risk of EID is to drastically reduce meat consumption,” the report states. “At the extreme, this could allow for widespread restoration of natural habitats, improving the health of wild populations while significantly reducing opportunities for transmission to livestock and humans, thereby reducing the chances of disease emergence.
“However, given long-term trends in per capita wealth and strong relationships between income and consumption of livestock products, significantly reducing demand for livestock is likely to be extremely difficult. This means that it is important to determine how any non-zero demand for livestock products can be met at the level [the lowest] cost in terms of EID risks.
Reduce meat consumption to save the planet
Reducing meat consumption is the most viable solution to reducing the risk of zoonotic diseases, but eating plant-based will also help save the planet from the climate crisis. The UN IPCC report outlines how the world must act to effectively prevent the planet from suffering the severe consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. But another report released last April says the world needs to cut meat consumption by 75% to stem climate change.
Vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians have reduced their meat and dairy intake for decades citing animal welfare and health as key motivators, but over the past decade calls for environmental action has encouraged more than half of US consumers to shop with sustainability in mind. Suddenly, climatarianism – the diet dictated by environmental impact – is becoming one of the most popular plant-centered diets.
The cost of cheap chicken
Last January, the Swedish poultry industry faced one of the worst bird flu outbreaks in years. Due to the bird flu epidemic, Swedish production companies slaughtered more than 1.3 million chickens. The increasing number of outbreaks can be attributed to the poor conditions of factory farms. Although industry giants claim to improve the standards behind greenwashing labels, most animal agriculture giants have made marginal efforts to improve cruel and risky practices.
This month of February, The New York Times partnered with Mercy For Animals to publish the poultry industry brief. The Life of Chickens video and article revealed a close-up look at the appalling conditions chickens are raised in prior to food production. Unsanitary conditions indicate a high risk of disease that not only threatens the lives of chickens but also that of consumers who purchase chicken or other poultry products.
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