After Covid-19, as we learn to navigate a post-pandemic world, there has never been a more important time to consider the serious threat of future pandemics and to understand how we can protect ourselves.

Infectious diseases are emerging globally at an unprecedented rate largely due to the legal and illegal trading of wild animals and the expansion of factory farming. As the insatiable global demand for meat, fish, eggs and dairy increases, so does the scale of animal agriculture, with the number of intensive farms – and the numbers of animals confined in them – rising at ever-increasing levels.

Factory farms provide the perfect breeding ground for disease. Animals are raised in closed, filthy, stressful and crowded, industrial facilities with little or no natural light. Their immunity is low as they have been bred for fast growth. It’s the perfect setting for viruses and bacteria to mutate and spread. You would be hard-pushed to provide a more ideal environment than a modern factory farm.

The rise in factory farms and diseases are directly connected, not just because of the horrific conditions farmed animals endure, but also because wild habitats are often disturbed and wild animals displaced to make way for new facilities. Dr Juliet Pulliam, director of the  South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling & Analysis (SACEMA), says: “Agricultural intensification has been proposed as a major underlying cause of pathogen emergence from wildlife and domestic animal populations into human populations”.

Global spread

Scientists have been warning us for years that the next pandemic could come from a factory farm. We’ve already seen a global swine flu pandemic in 2009 coming from a pig farm. The next pandemic may be caused by another coronavirus or a bird or swine flu virus. It may be an antibiotic-resistant superbug or some other previously unseen infectious disease. Scientists can’t say where, or from which animal, the next pandemic will emerge but they’re sure it will happen.

As we emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, many people were looking forward to getting back to normal. But it’s ‘normal’ that got us into this mess! If we are to avoid another pandemic, our relationship with animals and the environment can no longer just focus on exploitation. The way animal foods are produced is now considered to be a global health threat and we may have had our final warning.

It is vital to end this abuse of animals and move towards a plant-based food system. It’s a case of ending factory farming before it ends us!

Find out more here