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by Ben Kluvanek

(3.5 minute read) 

COVID-19 has been a disaster for public health, with almost 2.5 million cases worldwide and over 170,000 deaths at the time of writing. The economy has been  shaken. 

Our leaders and our fellow citizens are all working tirelessly and admirably to reduce the impact of the pandemic. And thinking ahead, to prevent the outbreak of another deadly pandemic, it is critical to understand where these viruses originate.

Scientific investigation points to the virus originating in bats in a wet market [1]. For scientists and public health officials, this is no surprise; Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged in 2002, and investigations a few years ago also identify a bat origin [1]. SARi is particularly insidious, killing 10% of the people it infected.

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Wet markets

Wet markets [Source: Shutterstock]If you’re an animal, wet markets are Hell on Earth. You’re miserable, far from your natural environment, confined to a tiny cage or tank, and under extreme stress from being so close to so many other animals and humans.

But as we have seen from COVID-19 and SARS, the packing of so many stressed, miserable animals into such close quarters also threatens public health. Health officials are now joining wildlife experts in calling for worldwide bans on wet markets. One official, the infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci, said that he is ‘boggled’ as to why these viral spawning grounds have not yet been shut down [2]. 

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Factory farming

Factory farms, too, are horrendous for animals and shocking for public health.

Take the 2009 Swine Flu. This pandemic had a death rate that was similar to what we’ve experienced from COVID-19 so far, with estimates ranging from 152,000 to 575,000 [3]. Where did Swine Flu originate? The science says pig farms [4].

There have even been semi-regular outbreaks of the bird flu that originate from chicken farms. The infamous Spanish Flu in 1918 that killed around 50 million people is suspected to have originated in a chicken farm [5]. Bird flus continue to threaten another pandemic.

Clearly, with so many stressed, miserable animals packed into confined spaces, factory farms are another spawning ground for viruses. 

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Protecting public health around the globe

COVID-19 has been a wake-up call, showing us clearly how dangerous and disruptive pandemics can be. Unless we address the root cause, and take action where these viruses are most likely to originate, there’s every chance that we’ll continue to face outbreaks even more deadly than the one we are currently facing.

Every wet market and factory farm closed is one place where viruses cannot spawn. Rather than continuing to gamble with the lives of the most vulnerable, let’s make the right, informed and kind choice – to close down factory farms and wet markets.

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Sources

  1. Yuan et al 2020, Regulating wildlife conservation and food safety to prevent human exposure to novel virus, Ecosystem Health and Sustainability, 6, DOI: 10.1080/20964129.2020.1741325
  2. Northam, J 2020, Calls Grow To Ban Wet Markets Amid Concerns Over Disease Spread, NPR, URL: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/16/835937420/calls-grow-to-ban-wet-markets
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, First Global Estimates of 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Mortality Released by CDC-Led Collaboration, URL: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/spotlights/pandemic-global-estimates.htm
  4. Mena et al 2016, Origins of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in swine in Mexico, eLife, 5, DOI: 10.7554/eLife.16777
  5. Lycett et al 2019, A brief history of bird flu, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 374, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2018.0257
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