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In 2021, The University of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics launched a Thinking Out Loud series on ‘Animals and Pandemics’ led by Dr. Katrien Devolder. She interviewed Farm Forward founder and CEO Dr. Aaron Gross about why factory farms are breeding grounds for pandemics, and what we, as individuals, can do to reduce the risk of new pandemics arising.
Dr. Devolder first learned of Farm Forward in an op-ed for The Guardian titled “We Have to Wake Up: Factory Farms are Breeding Grounds for Pandemics,” which connected the dots between factory farming and pandemic risk. Written by Dr. Gross and a Farm Forward board member, best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer, the op-ed notes the staggering pandemic virus threat posed by industrial pig and chicken farms and calls for societal change:
“The link between factory farming and increasing pandemic risk is well established scientifically, but the political will to curtail that risk has, in the past, been absent. Now is the time to build that will. It really does matter if we talk about this, share our concerns with our friends, explain these issues to our children, wonder together about how we should eat differently, call on our political leaders, and support advocacy organisations fighting factory farming. Leaders are listening. Changing the most powerful industrial complex in the world – the factory farm – could not possibly be easy, but in this moment with these stakes it is, maybe for the first time in our lifetimes, possible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases come from animals. With an estimated mortality rate of around two percent, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc worldwide. But it could have been much worse. Had COVID been another virus on the CDC watch list, like H5N1 (bird flu), we could be facing a pathogen with a 60 percent mortality rate. And of the 19 viruses currently dominating the CDC’s list of influenza viruses with pandemic potential considered “of special concern,” at least 11 emerged in commercial poultry farms.
While COVID-19 may have emerged from a wet market, the greater pandemic risk is our insatiable appetite for cheap, factory farmed meat. The meat that we eat today is overwhelmingly from genetically uniform, immunocompromised, regularly drugged animals lodged by the tens of thousands into buildings or stacked cages – no matter how the meat is labelled.
The world is a different place since the emergence of COVID-19 – we are waking up to the huge costs and disruptions caused by a pandemic and we are more ready to act now to protect our future. Some political leaders have rightly called for a moratorium on new factory farms while others are seeking additional protections for workers in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants. In this moment we can re-envision a future without industrial agriculture – in which alternatives abound and animals are raised with dignity.
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June 22, 2021