Corona virus and animal exploitation

*Marvel Lio*

The current corona-virus pandemic would have never happened if the world was vegan. Or at the very least it would have been SIGNIFICANTLY less possible. That is because the current corona-virus pandemic was only possible through animal exploitation. For those who don’t know what vegan means, it is, “A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

Most vegans eat a plant based diet and avoid using products such as clothing made from animal fur or skin. And if most people followed this lifestyle the corona-virus pandemic and other deadly outbreaks could have been avoided. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at previous outbreaks.

According to the AIDS institute the HIV virus started because of humans eating bush meat such as chimpanzees. Mad cow disease started in the UK because of the habit of feeding dead cattle back to farmed cows in the form of bone meal and blood meal. Mad cow disease was announced to have jumped to humans in 1996.

The swine flu pandemic of 2009 was traced back to a US pig farm. Ebola is thought to have started because of the practice of eating bats. The Spanish Flu of 1918 is believed to have been spread from infected livestock, including pigs and chickens and infected over 500 million people. And there are previous corona-viruses that spread from animals before our current one – such as the MERS coronavirus which spread from camels and had a 35% death rate.

These diseases only existed because of our desire to eat or otherwise exploit animals. Our exploitation of animals greatly increases the risk of these diseases emerging. This is especially the case when the animals are confined in large numbers and kept close together. These conditions are the norm in factory farms – the world’s most common method of farming.

The American Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that zoonotic diseases are so common that 6 out of 10 of every known infectious disease can be spread from animals to humans. And 3 out of 4 of emerging infectious diseases come from animals. A zoonotic disease is one that is spread from animals to humans. The WHO has stated that increased demand form animal meat is one of the main risk factors of a pandemic.
Perhaps I should refer to them as non-human animals. After all, humans are animals as well. And there is nothing about humans that makes it justifiable for us to treat animals the way that we do.

Many people try to justify animal exploitation on the grounds that non-human animals are less intelligent. But if you came across a human that wasn’t as smart as you, would you be justified in locking them up and killing them? If the answer is no and it’s not alright to harm humans on the basis of intelligence, then why is it somehow okay for a non-human animal to be harmed for that reason?

Others might say that it’s natural for humans to eat animals. But this is an appeal to nature fallacy. What is natural is not always good. Many poisons occur naturally in plants but they’re harmful. And it’s a disingenuous premise anyway. Our modern society is far removed from natural and that’s why you sleep in a building and not a tree.

Another common justification is, “don’t lions eat meat?” Well, lions also live outside, roar to communicate and sleep 20 hours a day. Would you do all those things simply because a lion does? Plus, you’re not a lion. Lions are obligate carnivores meaning they need to eat meat or die. Humans are not obligate carnivores. We can live quite well without meat. Plus lions, as far as we know, don’t have the capacity to ponder the moral implications of their diet like humans can.

Despite my above paragraph, you don’t actually have to give a shit about animal rights to take up a vegan lifestyle. You simply have to care about the lives of the millions of humans that have suffered both directly and indirectly as a result of zoonotic illnesses. Unfortunately, 10 million people have, at the time of writing, been diagnosed with covid-19 and over 500,000 people have died thus far. There are factory farm and slaughter house workers who have been forced to work during this pandemic even though their work conditions make them especially vulnerable to disease. There are millions who have lost their jobs and their loved ones due to covid-19. When non-human animals are exploited it is inevitable that humans suffer. How can we say that eating meat, dairy and eggs is a personal choice when it massively increases our risk of pandemics?

It’s very strange to me that the covid-19 problem has brought with it a lot of racism against Asians. People seem to think that our current situation is because Chinese people are “disgusting”, they’re “weird aliens” who eat “strange food”. They believe that preventing covid-19 was simply down to not behaving like an Asian. But if we examine the evidence we see that a pandemic could have broken out from literally ANYWHERE. There are bovine corona-viruses and swine corona-viruses currently present in US farm animals that have pandemic potential.

Any country that routinely keeps animals in confined spaces is a breeding ground for zoonotic illnesses. It’s simply bad luck that the outbreak happened in China specifically. Zoonotic illnesses are not a problem of Asian culture. They’re not specific to any country or culture. They are a problem with a human culture that continually justifies the confinement and killing of billions of animals every year regardless of the risk to the environment or to the health of humans.

It’s also quite hypocritical that Kenyans are looking down on Asians who eat raw meat when within our own country we have tribes that do the same. The only difference is that our people eat goats and not bats. And honestly what is the difference between eating a bat and eating a goat? One culture says the former is okay and another culture favors the latter. But who’s to say which culture is better when both practices carry the risk of zoonotic transmission?

It’s easy for us to blame China for the current pandemic. It allows us to avoid responsibility for our own actions. But if the whole world doesn’t collectively take responsibility for the animals they wear and put on their plate then we are simply waiting for yet another zoonotic pandemic. Maybe one that is far deadlier than this one.

Many people say,”Siwezi acha nyama ama maziwa.” But is meat and milk worth our current state? How many more viruses have to happen and how many more need to die before we change our behavior? It is even more urgent when we also consider that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change and the main risk factor of anti-biotic resistance in humans.

If taking up a vegan lifestyle seems too daunting, then perhaps approach it in incremental steps. You can simply start by reducing your intake of animal products. If you eat meat or milk daily then try to limit yourself to once a week. If you already have them once a week, then try eating them once a month. Or maybe try going vegetarian first. Ending animal exploitation and all the harm that goes along with it is going to depend on serious systemic change to our food systems and support for the people who work in animal agriculture to take up different livelihoods. That is a long and daunting task. But the change starts with you and with your plate.

Read more articles by Marvel Lio:

  1. You don’t owe your parents anything. Click here to read.
  2. BLM and its relevance in Kenya. Click here to read.
  3. Virginity and Gender. Click here to read.

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