Campaign group Pause the System is urging the UK government to ban factory farming. The organization suggests that this could help prevent any future pandemics following the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The group currently has a petition on Change.org titled “UK Gov Take Necessary Action on COVID-19.” It has three core demands, the first of which is to “pause the system” with immediate social distancing. As of March 23, people living in the UK can only make “essential” daily outings for medicine, food, and exercise.
Pause the System’s second demand is to “support everyone.” Specifically by providing full statutory sick pay (SSP) and a universal basic income. While self-quarantining workers are currently entitled to SSP—which is £94.25 per week—many people are struggling to cover their basic living costs.
Finally, Pause the System urges the UK government to “prevent future pandemics” by reducing emissions to net-zero. It should also halt biodiversity loss, and ban both factory farming and the trade of animals in general. The group specifically references a report by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
The report, titled “Pandemics in a changing climate—Evolving risk and the global response” (2016), indicates that the effects of climate change will increase the inherent risk of pandemic outbreaks. Pause the System also highlights current farming conditions as a contributing factor to the increased risk of future outbreaks.
“The Government’s priorities are all wrong,” said Pause the System spokesperson Steph Zuphan, in a press release. “It is clear that we need to change this broken system to one which prioritises ordinary people,” continued Zuphan. “Instead of lining the pockets of big business. The Government is exploiting this crisis to implement policies which advance their political agenda.”
Factory Farming and Human Health
Factory farming receives a great deal of criticism for its treatment of animals. According to Animal Equality, factory farming is the primary cause of animal suffering worldwide. Overcrowding, mechanization, and demand itself converts the animals contained in factory farms “into machines that generate meat, milk, and eggs.”
Factory farms can also severely pollute the local environment—damaging ecosystems and destroying habitats. These issues are linked, in that overcrowding both reduces the animals’ quality of life and increases a farm’s environmental impact. Overwhelming demand and artificially low meat-prices are key drivers of factory farming and “mass-production.”
Poor sanitation and ineffective waste management on factory farms can lead to contamination of the food supply by bacteria such as salmonella and E.Coli. Certain diseases, such as swine flu (H1N1) and avian flu, are communicable from animals to humans. Some experts believe that overcrowded pigs and poor waste management caused the initial outbreak of swine flu.
Frequent treatment with antibiotics prevents farmed animals from getting sick despite their unhealthy living conditions. Antibiotics also encourage rapid growth, increasing profitability.
According to a report published by The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), around 40 percent of produced antibiotics are used for feed additives. Estimates indicate 0.5 million kg allocated to cattle, 1.0 million kg to poultry, and 1.4 million kg to pork production.
These overly cramped, unsanitary conditions within factory farms, as well as their use of antibiotics, has also been linked to medicine-resistant “superbugs.” According to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), antibiotic-resistant infections could kill 2.4 million people in Europe, North America, and Australia by the year 2050.
Animal Agriculture and Climate Change
Climate change is a key contributor to the increased risk of pandemics, and animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change—something else specifically highlighted by Pause the System’s demands from the UK government. Meat has a huge environmental footprint and, according to the UN, is responsible for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Cattle farming is particularly harmful to the planet. It produces 36 kilograms of C02 for every one kilogram of meat. Beef production also requires 160 times more land—and produces 11 times more greenhouse gas—than plant-based staples such as potatoes, wheat, and rice.
Beef production is also linked to ongoing deforestation, including recent reports of Amazon rainforest fires. Some cattle farmers—who require the cleared land to raise livestock—intentionally start fires.
Lamb production also has an enormous impact on the environment and is another leading producer of methane emissions. While factory chicken farming takes a particular toll on the local aquatic environment. Because factory-farming concentrates such high numbers of chickens into small areas, pathogens, feed additives, and dead animals are prevalent.
Manure production is also an issue, and chicken feces severely damages soil and water quality. The primary environmental concern of pig farming is also manure. While in small quantities manure is compostable, intensive and industrialized pig rearing leaves farmers with more manure than they can process.
Anaerobic lagoons are man-made, outdoor lakes used for animal waste. Gas emissions from these lagoons include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. But lagoons are also prone to overflowing, which can release further harmful substances into the local area including bacteria, pesticides, and once again, antibiotics.
The Coronavirus and Meat
According to Worldometer, there are now almost 400,000 recorded cases of the coronavirus globally. Experts speculate that the virus originated from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. The market sold both live and dead animals.
The trade and consumption of wild animal meat is now banned in China. But at the time, Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market legally sold animals including bats, snakes, and civets. Experts speculate that an infected person, a group of infected animals, or even a single animal first introduced the virus to the market.
Thorough cooking should kill pathogens, but humans coming into contact with diseased animals—through wet markets, factory farms, and slaughterhouses—could be at risk of contracting and spreading diseases.
Zoonotic diseases can be passed from animals to humans. Some of these may not negatively affect the animal, but can still make humans extremely unwell.
“The reality of modern farming is that animals are housed in disease-infested conditions,” explained Pause the System spokesperson Dan Kidby, as reported in The Metro. “And pumped full of antibiotics. This is the perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant superbugs. We need to change our food system urgently.”