November is here and with it comes World Vegan Month. For many, veganism is a growing lifestyle choice, either due to health reasons or as a response to our often cruel agricultural systems, particularly, how animals are treated. Now, as systemic issues continue to unfold during this global pandemic, it bears asking, how can we look at our global food systems more critically?

Did eating meat cause COVID-19?

According to scientific research, the main cause of zoonotic diseases (that pass from animals to humans, like COVID-19) is industrial animal agriculture. Zoonotic diseases emerge when land is cleared for food production and wild habitats are demolished. As a result, diseases have an easier time jumping from livestock to humans. Outbreaks can also emerge from cruel factory farms, as we saw with swine and avian flu. These types of viruses are becoming more frequent due to dangerous human impacts on the climate.

Looking to the roots

Although eating meat does contribute to these systems, the root of the problem lies within the global food systems and their destructive nature. This is not news to scientists, who have issued warnings in the past about the dangers of our unsustainable livestock practices. In fact, livestock production is one of the most substantial sources of greenhouse gases and a leading causal factor behind biodiversity loss.

A global phenomenon

As scientific research suggests, our global food systems need radical changes. Zoonotic diseases are a worldwide phenomenon and are linked to many different countries and food systems. The Spanish Flu is believed to have originated from a midwestern pig farm, Menangle and Hendra viruses come from Australia, Reston virus from DC, Marburg virus from Germany, the list goes on. As Dutkiewicz, Taylor and Vettese make clear, “The problem isn’t some people’s taste for seemingly strange delicacies, but rather our global, profit-driven, meat-centered food system.”

Within commercial livestock production, antibiotics are often abused to hasten animal growth and prevent disease in overcrowded spaces, which has led to the increasing prevalence of ‘super-bugs‘. While news of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 has spread, the root causes behind this global pandemic also need to be brought into focus.

Designed by Ella Sabourin

What can we do?

Dutkiewicz, Taylor and Vettese write about three significant areas to create change. First, we must stop the subsidies that go towards industrial animal agriculture. Scientists have found the alarmingly devastating impacts of industrial livestock production on our environment and public health. Stopping subsidies and taxing animal products to incorporate environmental and public health-related costs will result in a shift towards safer and better food systems.

The second actionable task is to allocate more resources to local plant farming
that is actually sustainable, as opposed to the current damaging norm of mono-crops. A
beautiful and specific example of what this looks like can be seen in the documentary
film The Biggest Little Farm. The goal should be healthier soil and safer work for
farmers, who are often at the closest risk to pathogen exposure simply because of their

The last recommendation is to direct public funds towards plant-based
meat alternatives. As proven by the success of the Impossible Foods and Beyond
products, there is an appetite for these meat-free options. The beginning of COVID-19 also saw a massive spike in bean sales! There are alternatives, and there are people ready for truly progressive change towards sustainability.

The transition to sustainable agriculture, like transitions in other industries, will
create empowering and valuable jobs. As the Green New Deal describes, restoring the
soil and caring for the planet could involve a job guarantee, propelling the path forward
while supporting workers. Looking to the past, we can take inspiration from the original
New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which successfully gave nature restoration
work to over 3 million jobless people from 1933 to 1942
. Change is possible and,
according to scientific communities around the world, desperately needed.

As we purchase our legumes for World Vegan Month this November, there is no doubt plenty to chew on regarding progress towards a more sustainable and caring
agricultural future.

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