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No corner of the globe has been left untouched by COVID-19, the pandemic that’s infected millions and largely shut down life as we know it. While policymakers and the media focus on immediate concerns like ensuring we have sufficient ventilators and testing, it’s clearer than ever that we need to do more than simply react—we need to act now to prevent future pandemics.
Ending industrial poultry farming is the single greatest action we could take to reduce the risk and frequency of future pandemics.
In the midst of this pandemic, many are laying blame on “wet markets” and the consumption of bats and other wild animals. While COVID-19 may have emerged from a wet market, the greater pandemic risk is our insatiable appetite for cheap, factory farmed meat. 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—and the intensive confinement of genetically compromised animals on filthy, crowded factory farms has created a perfect breeding ground.
With an estimated mortality rate of around 2 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.
COVID-19 should be a wake up call—we have the power to prevent or delay the time when a deadlier virus lurking on factory farms leaps into our communities.
For more than a decade, Farm Forward has argued that there is no other public health measure that could so dramatically reduce our pandemic risk as ending industrial animal agriculture—which we reassert in a new Guardian op-ed with Farm Forward board member and New York Times best selling author Jonathan Safran Foer. The role Big Poultry plays at the epicenter of this risk is summed up in Foer’s 2009 bestseller Eating Animals:
“Breeding genetically uniform and sickness-prone birds in the . . . conditions of factory farms promotes the growth and mutation of pathogens. Our choice is simple: cheap chicken or our health” (pages 141-142).
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 ready to act now to protect our future. Some political leaders have rightly called for a moratorium on new factory farms while others are calling for additional protections for workers in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, thousands of whom have already become sick. In this moment we can re-envision a future without industrial agriculture—in which alternatives abound and animals are raised with dignity. Perhaps for the first time since the emergence of factory farms two generations ago, we are ready to collectively demand an end to Big Poultry.