Nothing less than “some 850,000 unknown viruses could cause pandemics if we do not stop exploiting nature”. These are the stark conclusions of a study by 22 leading international scientists from the United Nations Environment Programme. An authentic guide on how to ‘prevent rather than cure’ such diseases.
Experts warning us that: “Future pandemics will spread faster, do more damage to the global economy and be more lethal than COVID-19 unless there is a transformational change in the way we engage with nature”.
The good news is that the report on biodiversity and pandemics also proposes solutions. In the face of attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, with the design and rapid distribution of new vaccines, for example, scientists urge, among other things, changes to reduce the types of consumption, globalized agricultural expansion, and trade that have led to pandemics. This could include, they say, taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock production, and other forms of high-risk pandemic activities.
Although the public debate surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is very much focused on the individual measures we need to take to prevent the disease (masks, safety distances, hygiene, trackers…) there is a structural factor that is in the background and barely mentioned. How we produce and consume meat, at an increasingly demanding globalized rate, on huge farms where animals live in overcrowded conditions, has increased the frequency of new dangerous cases of flu over the last century and will continue to do so. Animal abuse, its environmental and climatic impact, and its risks to public health are all burdensome for industrial livestock farming as we know it today.
We should not forget that COVID-19 is the sixth global pandemic since the 1918 flu, and although it is caused by microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics, its emergence is entirely due to human activities. Almost all known pandemics are zoonotic, caused by microbes of animal origin that are spread by contact between wildlife, livestock, and people. Overcrowding of hundreds of animals of the same species in enclosed spaces is the ideal setting for a virus to jump from one living being to another and cause a fatal mutation.
Alternative proteins to reduce animal diseases
Reducing the global dependence on the livestock industry is a priority. Healthy protein alternatives that do not rely solely on intensive farming are necessary for several reasons. One is that the introduction of products such as Ethicameat cultured meat onto the market in the coming years can reduce the incidence of still untreated animal diseases such as PPP.
Cultured meat is one of the breakthroughs with which to deal with these kinds of animal epidemics. Due to its production process, cultured meat is grown in a 100% safe biological environment. It is meat without food risk, as the cells extracted from the animal are carefully selected and develop in a virus-free biological environment. With this biotechnological advance, the danger of contamination by zoonotic diseases is much less, making it a safe alternative to traditional livestock farming.
As the United Nations Environment Programme’s panel of experts points out, it is also in our hands to drive this change to reduce the risk of future pandemics.