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OPINION: A Zoonotic Heaven

The pandemic reminds us that the factory meat industry must be reformed. 

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As our world tries to grasp implications of the current coronavirus pandemic, we must, yet again, confront another zoonotic disease.

Such an illness occurs when a harmful pathogen, like the current coronavirus, jumps from an animal to a human. HIV/AIDS, Ebola, influenza and salmonella are all deadly zoonotic diseases humanity has faced in recent history. Unlike these terrible earlier diseases, the current coronavirus is tearing the fabric of our society because of how quickly it can spread death and illness throughout humanity without detection.

A prominent study in 2001 found that 61% of all human diseases are zoonotic. Ironically, despite the current and past zoonotic diseases that have harmed humanity, consumers and government officials have yet to fully scrutinize an obvious culprit for many of these diseases: factory meat manufacturing. Basically, it’s America’s version of a Chinese wet market, the cause of the current pandemic.

Chances are pretty good that if you eat meat, you’ve ingested various chemicals used in factory meat manufacturing to keep chickens, cows, pigs and other meat-bearing animals alive before slaughter. That’s because of the depraved conditions they are kept in and the torture they endure before their meat ends up on your table. If you’ve ever seen video clips featuring factory meat processing, then you know how horrific these places truly are. Over 99% of all farm animals live on factory farms where they are packed into buildings or small cages and are essentially tortured from the time they are born until their eventual slaughter. These practices increase profits for factory meat manufacturers.

As a result, these manufacturers use high doses of antibiotics in animals before slaughter. This curbs the spread of viruses and bacteria in those animals. Sentient Media says “over 70% of ‘medically important antibiotics’ in the U.S. are used by the factory meat industry on their animals to keep them from succumbing to disease in their unhygienic conditions.” That in turn results in lower immune systems in humans, which means a decreased ability to fight off viruses like the coronavirus.

And that’s just the animals. Workers in factory meat operations are highly susceptible to disease from directly handling the carcasses of dead animals. When these workers go back out in public, they can spread disease to others. An article from the National Library of Medicine explains these awful characteristics of the factory meat industry create the perfect storm for zoonotic disease transmission. Since the meat must go through an inspection process, consumers are at a lesser risk but, nevertheless, could still catch these diseases in meat bought in grocery stores. 

As of May 15, 744 workers in America’s meat industry tested positive for coronavirus and 69 of them have died. Despite this fact, the meat manufacturing industry has recently been deemed critical infrastructure requiring that many of these factories stay open. Meat consumption is far from necessary for human survival, especially given the widespread availability of plant-based meat alternatives.

Closing meat factories could mean saving the lives of innocent Americans, but it would not be profitable for meat corporation owners, who are seldom denied special privileges from our government. Some of these privileges can even extend as far as to deny American citizens the right to exercise their freedom of speech. Many Americans are unaware of so-called “ag-gag” laws that exist in several states. These make it illegal to investigate and reveal the abuses and health problems caused by factory meat operations. Policies like these and others favor the factory meat industry over constitutional free speech and consumers’ rights to transparency regarding what they are eating.

With respect to factory-processed meat, consumers can consider other meat options, such as grass-fed or free-range meats, which use more humane practices in their meat production and as a result aren’t contributing as heavily to the risks of creating another pandemic. These healthier, more humane practices are typically done by local farmers. Buying your meat from local farm and food networks allows you to learn more about what you are eating and has many positive benefits for the environment.

The factory meat industry needs to undergo major reforms to ensure safety for all humans. Many people are using this pandemic time to consider how we can change our actions. Factory meat industry reform should be one of these considerations to produce a better world for everyone.

A Richmond native, Rick Hood is the chief executive, owner and co-founder of Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, which started in 1989 and is in Carytown at 4 N. Thompson St.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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