Reckoning with Animal Agriculture

Given the abrupt nature of this tragic pandemic, it’s easy to believe that COVID-19 was little more than a fluke. That the mistake of one poor individual eating the now infamous bat-soup from a Chinese wet market was a one-off event; an unfortunate circumstance, but one that is unlikely to happen again. 

Unfortunately, the truth is much more complicated. COVID-19 has put into perspective how fragile humanity’s peaceful relationship with the natural systems that guide the biosphere are – natural systems that society has long been exploiting. The sudden rise of a biological nightmare has not come out of sheer coincidence, but rather is a symptom of years of exasperating ecological exploitation and shrinking natural wilderness. Now that the first wave of COVID-19 cases seems to be winding down (at least in some countries), perhaps it is time to take a moment and consider what very well may be next – an antibiotic resistant superbug. 

For years the animal agriculture business has been heavily ridiculed within the environmental community for the devastating impacts that large scale factory farming has on the environment. From slash and burn cutting in the Amazon Jungle to swine “poop-trains” along the East Coast USA, environmentalists have long condemned the problematic environmental impacts that animal agriculture has on the planet. 

But the health impacts have been largely dissuaded – occasionally coming up in questions surrounding genetic modification or hormone-fed animals, but largely tossed aside as non-issues. Yet under this façade of hamburgers and chicken nuggets has grown a larger issue – the risk of antibiotic resistant superbugs. 

An article in CBC recently cited a study done by the Council of Canadian Academics around the issue of antibiotic resistant superbugs, and found that by 2050, an estimated 400,000 people could have died from superbugs (Kane, 2019). Years of factory farming is largely to blame, as over-concentrated animal agriculture facilities have exasperated the use of antibiotics, quickly leading to viruses, fungi, and bacteria that develop immunity to the antibodies (Kane, 2019). Without proper surveillance and regulation, this threat will merely exasperate, putting millions of people’s lives at risk and costing hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with. 

COVID-19 has shown just how dangerous a global pandemic can be, and that is with the perceived hope of a vaccine at the end of the tunnel. Continuing to allow concentrated factory farming to use antibiotics to stem off diseases within their herds will merely exasperate the risk of an antibiotic resistant superbug leading to a new global pandemic, one that cannot be solved by a vaccine. The cost of ignoring this pressing issue is drastic – as University of British Columbia professor Brett Finlay said best: “This is almost as big, if not bigger, than climate change” (Kane, 2019). 

COVID-19 is no fluke. It is a symptom of a larger problem – a global economic system that fails to consider the delicate relationship between human beings and the natural world. If we continue to ignore that relationship, the long term consequences will be dire. 

Reference: 

Kane, Laura. (Nov. 12, 2019). Drug resistance likely to kill 400,000 Canadians by 2050, report predicts. CBC.https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/superbug-deaths-1.4429406

P.C: Ryan McGuire

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