The thing that causes animal -> human transmissions of pathogens such as bacteria and viruses is contact between animals and humans.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t understand the statistics behind this, the official descriptions of the mechanisms that facilitate such transmissions, or why we as intelligent thinking beings can’t get the simple facts into our heads. (Says the person who “doesn’t understand” so much, I know right? But there are some things I seem to see clearly that people lose sight of, or never even look for.)
First, let’s get through the things I know:
- Most viruses survive because at each generation, they mutate slightly. By using this strategy, yes, they will get a lot of virions that mutate into something weak and which can’t infect a new host, but every so often they hit a new variant that is better equipped to survive, and that then goes on to replace the predecessor virions (virions are one name for the individual particles that we call ‘virus’ in plural and collective terms.
- Viruses don’t survive for long if they immediately kill the host – they need to be carried to other fresh hosts.
- Viruses that can cross to another species of host have now spawned two sub-varieties of itself and now have two ways to be successful.
- If you come into contact with just a few animals then it’s relatively unlikely that the animals you do meet will be hosts to a virus that is successful and can cross to humans.
- One of the reasons we see so many new viruses is that our population is expanding, and it’s overlapping with wild animals either by our territories overlapping more and more, and because demand for their meat increases and provides an opportunity for some people to hunt for them and thus come in contact with more animals, of which some will be carrying a so-called ‘zoonotic’ virus. That hunter then brings than animal to other people, and also probably has the virus themself by that stage.
- Farm animals in crowded conditions and the sheer number of hosts in one space leads to lots of mutations of the viruses that they carry. There’s as high a chance that a certain percentage of the animals will host a potential pandemic as there would be if these animals were crowded into one location in the wild. But now we have millions of potentially infectious animals in effect encroaching on us all rather than on just a few hunters out in the wild.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/20/factory-farms-pandemic-risk-covid-animal-human-healthA few articles to go and have a read of – they’re scary but they bear this out – it’s only a matter of time…
Some of those articles may suggest to eat no meat. That is an enlightened view to take, but it doesn’t work for all of us. Some of us are already vegetarians, some vegans, and some are some variation in between like pescatarians. Some people are omnivores, and some would hate a world without meat and pay a hunter to go out among wild animal populations, or pay a farmer somewhere to grow a whole bunch of animals in concentrated conditions. Which is how SARS-COV-2 apparently started, and that makes a ban of meat illogical.
And before you say “yeah but that’s only carnivores so it’s just Nature re-balancing itself” think on this – SARS-COV-2 most likely originated in a wild animal that was probably hunted, killed, and sold to someone that was either desperate for some – ANY – kind of meat for themselves or their family, or else who preferred wild ‘bush meat’.
If you know anyone infected with COVID19, ask yourself this: Did that person eat bush meat or get someone to hunt bush meat for them? The virus doesn’t care about your superior morals. It’s looking for hosts to reproduce in.
The one thing we have going for us is that it should be relatively easy to get advance warning. It’s recently been shown that testing sewage for coronavirus shows the presence of the virus almost a full week before people start getting symptoms. I imagine the same will hold true for intensive farming operations, so if – IF – we can get them to test the effluent from each operation on a daily basis, we’d have notice enough to isolate all the workers and deal with infected animals.
Also, testing workers and the on-site sewage systems. Look at it this way, I’d rather pay 10c/kg more for my chicken than risk being that one person in 2000 that COVID19 doesn’t play well with..
By far the best answer though is to simply split up large megafarms of all kinds and spread out production. The answer – and the reason there were no real pandemic outbreaks of zoonotic viruses in the past – is in small, LOCAL farms.
The reason we allowed corporations to run megafarms is because this would produce a reliable source of affordable food for ourselves. The corporate line of bullshit was that it was cheaper, more efficient, and more convenient to do things that way.
The truth of it is that it is cheaper – for the corporations to produce that food, at any rate – but we are still paying as much as we’d charge the local farmer. It is more efficient – but the efficiency referred to is the efficiency at which the corporation can turn chickens (or whatever) into dividends for the shareholders. And the convenience that they give you, of being able to buy chicken any time you want, is nowhere near the efficiency that this allows corporations to milk the entire operation for money.
If you return the job of feeding your particular locality back to local farmers, there are benefits:
- You get fresh, well-grown, generally more nutrient-dense foods.
- Once your farmers aren’t having to compete with mega-corps, they can price accordingly.
- Your local community keeps your money local.
- Importantly, food will once again be worth something. Chicken or beef may cost slightly more than the supermarket alternative, but that difference will shrink.
- If you find yourself cooking more balanced meals because of that cost, it’s a cost well worth bearing.
- Especially when you consider that any outbreak of any illness is LOCAL and easily containable, and most importantly – If there is any issue with the quality of the food, your recourse is direct rather than dealing with a battery of corporate lawyers.
I’ve often put forth my opinion that buying most of one’s food locally has benefits.
- Your money stays local and supports the local economy.
- (Even if your local farmers sell their produce to a megacorporation which then sells it back to you (and a few hundred thousand people all around the country) your money has gone to shareholders whose location is generally anywhere but your location.)
- Smaller diversified farms create food resilience. If one or two of your local farms have a bushfire, there are others that will take up the slack.
- Smaller diversified farms are better for the environment than megafarms. There is more biodiversity, meaning that all the different layers of the biosphere are able to do what they’re evolved to do, which is support each other. That results in better soil and resistance to diseases, which translates to better quality and quantity of produce.
- If one of the local farmers takes liberties with the way they produce crops or animals, it’s easy to find out which one, and only makes a small dent in the district’s supply of that food. Cf: corporate megafarms where it can sometimes take weeks to trace an outbreak of something like salmonella back to the offending megafarm and destroying that particular food WILL affect half the country’s supply of that food.
Coronavirus testing herds and flocks and workers daily is a way to ensure food security right now because as observed it’ll show the start of outbreaks days and perhaps up to a week beforehand and give time to take steps to prevent the outbreak from gaining hold. But at those sorts of levels of production, any reluctance to test daily will result in large scale outbreaks.
In local farm scenarios, an outbreak is easier to localise and control, testing can still be carried out daily, and the benefits to local economies, local food security, local nutrition, local environment, and the community are additional benefits.