The novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease known as COVID-19 has presented unfathomable hardships, hurdles, and losses for the entire world. The death toll is incomprehensible and it’s long term effects are sure to leave lasting chaotic ripples in our society. It has been speculated that if society as a whole consumed a vegan diet then we wouldn’t be in such a troubling state of affairs. Vegans have pointed towards the meat and dairy industry and what they see as the exploitation of animals as the primary culprit for this ongoing pandemic and previous pandemics such as Avian flu, Swine flu, and SARS.
If there was something simple that we could do to better the world would you do it? Can we spare future generations the pain and agony of viral pandemic disasters by adopting a Vegan diet? Let’s take a peek at this hypothesis and see if it holds any water?
Origins of Pandemics
COVID-19 which is caused by the coronavirus SARS-COV-2 spread to humans via animals. Pangolins are likely the intermediary host that carried the virus that originated in bats to humans. This first transmission likely happened somewhere around Wuhan China and the first case of super-spread (a quick cluster of transmissions) was at the now infamous Huanan wet market. In case you have no idea what a pangolin is, not only do I highly recommend you check these wild-looking creatures out with a Google search but I’ll also tell you that they are scale-covered mammals similar in appearance to an armadillo crossed with an anteater.
Well, you don’t have to be a vegan to be asking yourself, who the heck would eat a pangolin? China has a longstanding and highly customary heritage of practicing what is known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Pangolin scales are traditionally dried and roasted then powdered and used as a panacea for a number of different ailments such as palsy, infections, arthritis, and even problems with lactation.
As COVID-19 is still an ongoing and emerging threat to the world, research hasn’t fully confirmed its point of genesis. But it is within our best guess given genetic cues found in its RNA that the coronavirus came to us through animals.
Ask a vegan and perhaps they’ll let you know how H5N1 also known as Avian flu was first detected in humans in humans during a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997. or how swine flu was discovered in America and found to be spreading through domesticated pig populations in 2009. It should be noted that these influenzas didn’t necessarily originate in the realm of human-assisted agriculture but they certainly incubated, mutated and spread from these large meat-producing populations.
Vegans point to the origins of modern and historical pandemics as proof that animal exploitation is the primary source of epidemics. Billions of livestock animals are slaughtered every year. Animals such as cows and chickens experience population heights that they never would have dreamed of reaching in nature. These extremely high numbers lead to higher chances of mutations to occur within viruses that circulate in their communities.
Poor conditions and the rampant use of antibiotics are also pointed at by vegans as added fuel to the fire. Drug resistance that develops over time and persistent use creates strains of bacteria and viruses that are much hardier than their previous generations. Most diseases are not transferable between humans and animals but when they do jump, this is known as zoonoses. COVID-19 had its origins in humans through zoonoses but the host animal that gave it to us wasn’t domesticated. Vegan diet promoters also use this as proof that is not just the animal agriculture industry that is to blame but in fact the entire pantheon of industries that profit off of what they perceive to be the exploitation of animals.
If we were to stop eating meat and dairy, cease buying leather and wool, and start consuming a plant-based diet, would that be enough to stop these new viral diseases from creeping into our world?
Critics to the vegan diet theory point out that even if we were to eliminate some zoonotic diseases from emerging in the future, this wouldn’t automatically erase the ones that have already been introduced to our world nor would choosing a vegan diet prevent transmission from animals we contact that aren’t domesticated like rodents and bird.
Vegans might want to take note as well that wee are sometimes the origins of novel disease. It’s not always one of our animal friends that introduce new viruses to the world. We have a population rapidly racing towards 8 billion people. Viruses are constantly bouncing back and forth between us, adapting, mutating, and strengthening in the process. Veganism won’t stop us from getting each other sick.
Conclusion – Compromise and compassion
It is very true, that if humans had never domesticated livestock animals then many of the pandemic scale diseases we’ve been plagued with through the ages would have never come to be. Switching to a vegan diet won’t change the past however nor undue the damage already done.
It’s also a hard sell to convince people to change their entire diets. Veganism has become more popular in recent years and creating positive incremental changes over time is a better strategy than radical abrasive change overnight.
Reducing the numbers of animals that we exploit as a species is certainly a way to decrease the statistical chance of new viruses emerging. Discouraging and regulating poaching and interference with wild animal populations too is sure to make an impact. But, just as COVID-19 isn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon, society won’t make major changes anytime soon. Regardless of regulatory law or popular opinion, there will always be those that choose to eat, abuse, and exploit animals. While those people still walk among us, there will be new pandemics from time to time. The goal for all of us should be harm reduction. If a vegan diet is something you can do for your own life consider adopting it otherwise consider maybe tr.ying to reduce your consumption of goods made from animals.