Avoiding Future Pandemics

As the number of COVID-19 cases hits 3.5 million worldwide, scientists and campaigners call for a change in lifestyle

As Olivier Restif from the University of Cambridge wrote in his article on zoonosis – how diseases jump from animals to people:

‘Countless pathogens jump across animal species on a daily basis – most of the time with no visible effect. But increasingly, these pathogens are taking advantage of the new opportunities that humans have created as they reshape the natural environment.’

Olivier Restiff, University of Cambridge

With COVID-19 dominating headlines and changing daily life around the world, more attention is being paid to zoonotic diseases and what we can do to protect ourselves from them.

A report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a peer-reviewed scientific journal by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 60% of known infectious diseases and up to 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in organ.

And zoonoses are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths worldwide each year.

There is continued speculation about which animal species was the origin of COVID-19, but as we recently wrote, that can be a distracting question from the bigger picture. It is our encroachment on nature and unnatural agricultural practices that are putting us in danger of continued zoonotic diseases.

Now a group of scientists and campaigners have written an open letter, published in The Independent, that calls on the general public to adopt a vegan lifestyle to avoid zoonotic pandemics in the future.

  • They point to the unsanitary conditions of wet markets in China with different animal species in crowded cages, stacked on top of each other and killed on location.
  • They reference the inhumane treatment of chickens, pigs and cattle in factory farms, where there is a wide-spread use of antibiotics to keep these animals alive long enough to go to slaughter.
  • And they reference again the destruction of natural habitats that bring humans and animals into closer contact, permitting these diseases to spread.

The letter clearly states, ‘Ending the exploitation of animals is one of the biggest actions humankind can take to protect itself against future pandemics.’

Juliet Gellatley, director of Viva!, a charity campaigning for a vegan world, wrote in a supplemental piece:

‘As our excessive demand for meat and animal products grows, we destroy ever more wilderness for animal fodder and grazing, bringing wildlife into closer contact with people. And we put ourselves at greater risk.

This is no longer just a matter of animal welfare, it’s a global public health crisis too.’

Juliet Gellatley

The recommendation from these scientists and campaigners is a switch to a vegan lifestyle – making the entire animal agricultural industry obsolete. And while that switch may be too hard for some people to swallow, dramatically decreasing the amount of meat and dairy we consume would have wide-ranging benefits.

Switching to a primarily plant-based diet could:

  • Reduce the current scale and intensity of animal agriculture
  • Stop deforestation to provide crop or grazing land for animals
  • Protect biodiversity and natural habitats for wild animals
  • Cut down on greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduce our risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer

And it will help prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases in the future.

Pig at an animal sanctuary. Ben Mater, Unsplash

So if you’re ready to give plant-based a try – whether that’s one meal, one day or full-time, check out the resources at Veganuary, The Vegan Society or Meat Free Mondays.

Similar stories