As if the suffering of animals isn’t enough to sway Americans towards eating a plant-based diet, there are many other reasons why shifting to veganism is urgent. Since the start of COVID-19, there has been an increased focus on why factory farming should end.
As vegans, the ethical reasoning for not eating animal products is abundantly clear— to prevent the needless suffering that results from the mass exploitation of animals. We’ve seen the horrors of factory farming and know that the methods practiced by these giant corporations is currently the norm in the US. The likelihood of making sweeping changes to consumer choices or the mega-corp industry itself seems daunting. However, a new scoping study outlined in the article titled Industrial Animal Farming and Zoonotic Risk has found that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increased attention to the urgency for ending factory farming and promoting plant-based diets due to the threat of zoonotic outbreaks it could cause.
COVID-19 is one of many zoonotic diseases that are transmissible from non-human animals to humans. This particular disease likely originated in a wet seafood market. Zoonotic outbreaks have increased since the seventies, and industrial livestock farming is one of the major causes. An example is the global H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak that arose from industrial pig farming in 2009. The avian influenza is another that spread throughout large-scale poultry farms in 2003. Unless factory farming ends, there is a strong possibility of another pandemic occurring in the future because of it.
Factory farms are likely candidates for causing zoonotic pandemics due to the industrialized and intensified methods used. The overcrowded and high density in which most pigs, chickens, and cows are confined allows for the spread of pathogens found in their feces and aerosols, and the overuse of antibiotics on the animals causes resistant bacteria strains. Not only do these practices cause immediate welfare issues within an industrial farm, they act as a good incubator for zoonotic disease.
In their scoping study, authors Brozek and Falkenberg searched for articles published between January 2020 and May 2021 on the risk of future zoonotic outbreaks that factory farming could cause and actions proposed to prevent it. They analyzed 41 articles that met their criteria. What the researchers found was the expressed need to create legal and economic regulations to protect human and non-human animal health.
Common strategies recommended in the literature include curbing the consumption of animal products, finding meat-alternatives, prohibiting factory farming, funding plant-based agriculture, taxing the sale of animal products, and divesting from companies involved in factory farming. Although the study’s main objective focused on the prevention of future zoonotic pandemics, all the recommendations would be considered a win in the animal rights movement. Having an increased consensus on promoting plant-based diets and putting an end to factory farming helps build the momentum for relieving the suffering of an enormous number of animals.