The coronavirus outbreak is severely impacting the meat industry. Analysts predict the pandemic will cause a 3 percent drop in global meat consumption this year. That comes out to some 9.5 billion tons.
According to the UN’s Food Outlook Biannual Report on Global Food Markets, per-capita meat consumption will drop this year to the lowest its been in nearly a decade. The drop is the largest decline since 2000.
A number of factors are contributing to this decrease, including COVID-related market disruptions to production.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus and worker callouts have caused a number of meat processing plants to close or reduce operations. Some of the biggest meat companies—including Tyson Foods, Smithfield Food Inc. Cargill Ltd., National Beef Packing Co., and JBS—closed down plants following outbreaks.
The decline in the food sector’s demand for meat products is also due to restaurant and school closures.
Put simply, the coronavirus is currently impacting how much meat people are eating. According to Dr. Shireen Kassam—a consultant hematologist and founder of non-profit organization Plant Based Health Professionals UK—this isn’t a bad thing.
While it’s still uncertain whether a decline in meat consumption will stick, Kassam believes the food system needs to change.
“Eating less or no meat will certainly vastly reduce the risk of new viral infections [like the coronavirus] and of course transmission of bacteria from food. This is an undisputed fact recognized by international organizations,” she told LIVEKINDLY.
COVID-19 and Meat Consumption
Some experts believe the coronavirus originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China. The zoonotic disease was transferred from a wild animal sold for meat.
“As many as three out of four new human infections in the last century have arisen in animals. [They have] been transmitted either directly or indirectly to humans through trading wildlife or factory farms,” Dr. Kassam revealed.
She continued: “Factory farms are [also] a breeding ground for viral infections because of the enclosed, crowded, and squalid conditions and the stress under which the animals are kept. [This] impairs the animal’s immune system.”
“These conditions help maintain and spread infections such as bird and swine flu,” she added. “These types of viruses are prone to mutations that can change their characteristics. [This makes] the virus capable of being transmitted to humans who are in close contact with the farm animals.”
Opting for Plant-Based Foods
Dr. Kassam says the pandemic has disproportionately impacted people with underlying health conditions. These health conditions include hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and type-2 diabetes. Dietary choices are linked with a vast majority of these conditions.
“It’s not only about eating or not eating meat. Our diets are also too high in processed foods and hugely deficient in whole plant foods. Most of the population is just not eating enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. [These] are the foods associated with [the] lowest risk of chronic disease,” she said.
She says a predominantly plant-based diet is more likely to prevent chronic disease. It’s also more likely to support a healthy immune system.
“Meat in the diet does not provide any nutrients that are not easily available in plant foods. Meat does not provide the thousands of phytonutrients present in plant foods that are associated with health and a reduced risk of illness,” Dr. Kassam said.
Studies show a whole-food, plant-based diet can effectively treat a number of health issues. These include type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
Dr. Kassam added: “Whether this will help reduce the impact of coronavirus is not known as yet. But there is certainly a strong scientific basis for a possible impact on improving outcomes. Especially given the fact that this virus is unlikely to disappear quickly and is likely to remain a problem for the coming year or two.”