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Animal Agriculture = Public Health Enemy #1

COVID-19 is dominating the headlines, but let’s talk about H5N1.

Never heard of it? H5N1 has a 60 percent human death rate — far higher than the Coronavirus — and is circulating chicken farms around the world, right now. Epidemiological experts say it’s only a matter of time before another pathogen takes off, potentially deadlier than we can imagine.

The way we produce and eat animal-based foods around the world has far greater, wide-ranging and devastating outcomes on human health than pandemics. Eating animals is a public health disaster, here’s why:

The meat industry = increase in superbugs. It’s common practice for factory farms to unnecessarilyadminister antibiotics to their mostly non-sick animals. It’s a cheap way for them to ward off infections (i.e. prevent economic losses later), instead of using them responsibly — treating bacterial illness when they happen. This is laying the groundwork for a post-antibiotic future in which bacteria adapt to and become resistant to medications we develop to fight them. Here’s a frightening figure: A recent United Nations report warned that drug-resistant infections, exacerbated by antibiotic overuse, could reach 10 million deaths annually by 2050.

Humans are getting sick and dying from eating animals. Meat consumption is partially to blame for the continued rise in the most common and deadly human diseases. It’s why many physicians now recommend a plant-based diet, asserting it’s a powerful way to achieve good health and prevent diseases including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

The animal agriculture industry is hazardous to its own workers. Studies show that factory farm (99% of meat production in the US) workers are more likely to develop lung and respiratory disease from harmful gases and particulate matter in animal farms. They’re also more susceptible to workplace-related chronic pain, cardiovascular complications and even premature death. They also face the risk of catching serious infections that transmit from animals to human beings.

To mitigate health risks, the most significant thing people around the world can do, right now, is change how we eat. Banning wildlife consumption is one promising change we’re seeing in the wake of the current pandemic, but it’s not enough.

Broiler Chicken Factory Farming / iStock

We need to wake up to the far bigger health crisis we’ve created. It doesn’t lie within one pandemic, but is already happening daily, globally.

With global meat production projected to more than double the current rate by 2050, our existing animal-dependent food system is a public health disaster.

Humankind must stop mass producing (and consuming) animals for food and shift towards plant-based diets. We need to stop being our own worst enemy.