Factory farms create the perfect conditions to spread viral infections like COVID-19

An alarming 75 percent of new or emerging diseases start in animals.

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SOURCEIndependent Media Institute
Sows lined up in crates. An undercover investigation conducted in the spring of 2012 by The Humane Society of the United States revealed egregious cruelty and filthy conditions at a Wyoming pig breeding facility owned by a pork supplier for Tyson Foods and Jimmy Dean. The undercover footage was taken at Wyoming Premium Farms, a pig factory farm in Wheatland, Wy., and shows workers kicking piglets like footballs, swinging sick piglets in circles by their legs, striking mother pigs with fists and hard objects and repeatedly and forcefully kicking them as they resisted leaving their piglets. The investigator also found pigs with untreated abscesses and rectal and uterine prolapses; mummified piglet corpses; and baby piglets who had fallen through floor slats to either hang to death or drown in manure pits. The graphic video also documents prolonged suffering of pigs used for breeding who are confined in gestation crates, cages so small the animals can’t even turn around, rendering them virtually immobilized for almost their entire lives. During the investigation, The HSUS investigator was told that Tyson Foods and Jimmy Dean buy pigs from Wyoming Premium Farms including “cull” sows – those too old or injured to breed again. The animals are shipped by truck for more than 25 hours to be slaughtered and processed at the Indiana Packers Corporation, a slaughter plant co-owned by Mitsubishi and Itoham Corporation. Itoham Corporation also owns Wyoming Premium Farms.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States grow and the government scrambles to address the virus’s spread, it’s important to reflect on its source and discuss the role that consumption of animals plays in the spread of the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 likely originated in bats, and the first outbreak in Wuhan, China, has been linked to a live animal market. These markets, known as “wet markets,” allow the sale of wild animals and put people in close proximity to both live and dead animals with little or no regulatory oversight. Wet markets are also thought to be the place where other deadly diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crossed the species barrier.

COVID-19 and SARS are not the only diseases that began in animals and now infect humans. An alarming 75 percent of new or emerging diseases start in animals. Researchers have found 13 zoonoses (diseases transmitted between animals and humans) which cause 2.2 million human deaths per year. Most of these infections can be traced to farm animals such as chickens, cows, pigs and goats. The World Health Organization notes that some of these diseases, like avian flu, which originated in chickens and spread to humans, are more deadly than standard flu viruses.

It’s not just live animal markets that put the world at risk by being breeding grounds for disease. Because Americans eat more meat per person than almost any other country, most farms have shifted into large-scale animal factories. Each of these operations is packed with animals—sometimes hundreds of thousands—creating the perfect conditions for spreading disease.

While governments and companies worldwide are canceling conferences and events in an attempt to stop the human-to-human transmission of COVID-19, we’re simultaneously cramming billions of animals together, effectively creating the same opportunity for disease transmission between these animals, which may then spread to humans.

Furthermore, in an attempt to keep animals alive in these filthy conditions until they reach “slaughter weight,” factory farms commonly give them antibiotics. Often these antibiotics are medically important for treating human diseases, and their overuse and misuse in animal farming is contributing to the antibiotic resistance crisis. Leading health care organizations plead that without urgent action to reduce antibiotic use in all settings—including in farm animals—we will be facing a time when these drugs no longer work for people or animals.

In addition to viral spread from these animal factories, high consumption of the products that these facilities produce—meat, eggs and dairy—creates a greater risk of chronic illness. Over and over again, studies link diets heavy in animal products to higher rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and types of cancer.

As we attempt to fight the spread of COVID-19, now is the time to think critically about how we want to continue to feed ourselves here in the U.S. and around the world. Clearly, this is a serious problem that seems to be of our own making. It’s a cruel irony that as we’re killing animals for food, it’s killing us, too.

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