The world is consumed by the COVID-19 crisis, and people everywhere—from public health experts to media pundits to Hollywood stars—are calling for animals to be left alone. Americans are often quick to blame “wet markets” abroad, lazily attributing the pandemic to a “foreign” practice and culture, even though there are live-animal markets in New York City and California, too. But those finger-pointers need a crash course in epidemiology. Because if you blame the coronavirus on people who kill and eat wild animals but you have no problem feasting on the body of a cow, chicken, or pig, we have news for you: Your meat habit may spark the next global pandemic.
“It boggles my mind how when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we don’t just shut it down. I don’t know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that.”
—Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
COVID-19 is certainly not the first disease caused by humans’ practice of exploiting animals for food. Remember SARS? Bird flu? Swine flu? They all originated on farms, in slaughterhouses, or at live-animal markets. The world is finally starting to connect the dots, and the link between today’s farming practices and an increased pandemic risk is getting more attention than ever before. Readers of the nation’s largest newspapers—including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times—were recently confronted with this reality head-on when PETA released full-page ads reminding Americans that U.S. farms are just as vile and hazardous as wet markets.
But despite the deluge in coverage highlighting the dangers that factory farms pose to animals, humans, and the planet, many Americans don’t consider themselves complicit, because they think they’re eating “humane meat.”
Which is impossible, because …
There Is No Such Thing as Humane Meat
The term “humane meat” is based on a myth and is one of the many deceitful marketing tactics used by the animal agriculture industry. So-called “humane farms” are not monitored or regulated by the government to ensure that animals are being treated well. Even third-party certifications still allow severe crowding of hens, whose beak tips are removed so that they can’t peck each other to death, and grinding up of unwanted baby chicks while they’re conscious. Pigs on “organic” farms, “grass-fed” cows, and “free-range” chickens still end up at the same terrifying slaughterhouses, where they’re hung upside down, scalded, and bled to death, often while they’re still conscious.
A 2017 survey found that 75% of U.S. adults believe that they usually eat meat, dairy, and eggs from animals treated humanely—but data shows that over 99% of farmed animals in the U.S. actually live on factory farms. Globally, that figure is probably over 90%. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see the disconnect here—American meat eaters either don’t know or refuse to believe that they’re eating animals who came from factory farms.
But one bit of math does add up: 100% of animals don’t want to suffer and die—not for a burger, a glass of milk, or any other reason.
“If you actually want to create global pandemics, then build factory farms.”
–-Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, as told to Vox
The willingness to exploit and kill animals—who are capable of fear, joy, and grief—has largely contributed to the current state of the world, in which millions of people are infected with the novel coronavirus and hundreds of thousands have already died of COVID-19. The virus may have originated in wet markets, but factory farms, where the majority of the world gets its meat, also create a “perfect-storm environment” for the spread of similar diseases. Whether they’re eating pangolins or pigs, humans must stop treating animals like objects put on the planet for our use. Both of these species, like humans, nurse their babies. And like us, they feel pain and want to live.
If you consume animals’ bodies, you’re responsible for helping to keep a violent, dangerous industry afloat. In addition to financially supporting the murder of billions of sentient beings annually, you’re also participating in a system that exploits workers (sometimes to their deaths), pollutes our planet, and risks another global public health crisis.
Enough is enough—nobody likes the sound of a COVID-20, -21, or -22. For the sake of the planet and all beings trying to live here, it’s time to go vegan.