As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to expand, experts say pandemic prevention should also focus on the United States, where intensive agricultural practices are breeding grounds for disease, according to a March 2021 report by WhoWhatWhy.
“The threat boils down to American excess,” Jessica Moss wrote. Over the past fifty years, meat production has increased about 260 percent, mostly in the form of so-called factory farms or CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) that fulfill the US and global demand for cheap and plentiful animal protein. As Moss reported, 99 percent of US meat comes from factory farms where “[p]oor conditions and stress on the animals means that disease can emerge on the farms and spread through the herd at lightning speed—like COVID-19 in a nightclub.”
Animals raised for meat are confined in tight sheds in which animals barely can move around and lack adequate ventilation for good health. “Overcrowding not only threatens to ‘amplify’ disease in animals, it also hastens mutation, increasing the likelihood of a jump from animals to human beings,” Moss wrote.
Many farms try to prevent disease by treating animals with antibiotics, which also facilitate fast growth. The problem, Moss reported, is that “excessive use of these medicines helps microbes develop drug-resistant pathogens— phenomenon known as antimicrobial resistance.” According to the World Health Organization antimicrobial resistance is among the top ten threats to global health. Michael Martin, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco and president of the organization Physicians Against Red Meat, told WhoWhatWhy, “If you wanted to find a way to promote antibiotic resistance in bacteria, you almost would not be able to find a better way to do it than concentrat[ing] animals together and feeding them antibiotics on a regular basis.”
Under these conditions, the demand for meat is itself a driver of disease, Moss’s report concluded.
Source: Jessica Moss, “The Next Pandemic May Be Bred on US Farms,” WhoWhatWhy, March 11, 2021, https://whowhatwhy.org/2021/03/11/the-next-pandemic-may-be-bred-on-us-farms/.
Student Researcher: Emily Utsig (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)