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Awaiting the next epidemic!

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I am a research assistant at University of Toronto. My research areas include experimental psychology and neuroscience. I occasionally write articles on sociopolitical issues.

Corona pandemic is not over yet. Is it the right time to think about the next epidemic? Time can only tell what is right but we need to be aware of our action as human beings and their impacts on nature and the consequent epidemics. Now, the human race is battling against the Coronavirus. Even if the human race wins this battle, which they will, there is still the possibility of another pandemic still awaiting if we do not learn from the past and the present.

Recently, I had the privilege of reading several books on epidemics. Among them, ‘Crisis in the red zone’ by Richard Preston, ‘Pandemic’ by Sonia Shah are noteworthy. The descriptions of the book by Preston are scary. It describes a gripping account of the doctors and scientists fighting to protect humans from the Ebola outbreak. The book by Sonia Shah provides an example of ‘Sundarban’ Forest. During the rule of the Mughal Empire, people did not inhabit ‘Sundarban’, it was thought to be an unholy place. At that time the place was full of cholera bacteria. In 1760, the East India Company came and started cultivating rice by cutting the jungles. Eventually, that cholera crossed to humans and learnt to adapt.

Most of these germs, viruses could spread on their own but today our communication system has improved in such a way that the virus from China has reached almost all the countries in the Globe. Since animals are the source of these germs, the diseases from them are called Zoonosis. Zoonosis (zoonotic disease) is an infectious disease that is transmitted by a germ (such as bacteria, virus etc) and from animals to humans and then from humans to humans. Zoonosis accounts for nearly 60 percent of infectious diseases worldwide. More than 30 new germs have been discovered in the last three decades of which 75 per cent are from animals. Facts from The ‘Pandemic’ book by Sonia Shah are quite hair-raising. From 1957 to 2007, the number of hog farms in the USA increased by 2000 percent and the number of chicken farms increased by 30,000 percent. In the unhygienic environment of these farms, germs develop and pollute the air, soil and water and eventually, it reaches the human body.

According to Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: a Virus of Our Own Hatching said, ‘When we overcrowd animals by the thousands, in cramped football-field-size sheds, to lie beak to beak or snout to snout, and there’s stress crippling their immune systems, and there’s ammonia from the decomposing waste burning their lungs, and there’s a lack of fresh air and sunlight- put all these factors together and you have a perfect storm environment for the emergence and spread of disease’. He even said that “If you want to create global pandemics, then build factory farms.” Sonia Shah also mentioned, “When I was writing my book, I asked my sources what keeps them awake at night. They usually had two answers: virulent avian influenza and highly drug-resistant forms of bacterial pathogens,” “Both those things are driven by the crowding in factory farms. These are ticking time bombs.”

Yes, animal farms are indeed ticking time bombs. It’s the need of the hour that we start to respect science and facts and act accordingly.

The main purpose of these animal farms is to provide meat to the customer. We can raise the question of, are there alternatives to these animal farms which will reduce the risk of these zoonotic illnesses, reduce the effects on climate change as well as reduce the cruelty to animals? Experts have their say on sustainable animal husbandry. Apart from that, the demand for plant-based meat has risen in first world countries including the USA and Canada. ‘Beyond Meat’ is a company that has started doing millions of dollars of business and even following the epidemic many people have started to choose more plant-based meat than the regular ones.  

These viruses like Corona are dwelling inside the body of birds, cows or bats for ages. It reaches the human body whenever it gets the chance. It is called ‘spillover’. The bat has the Coronavirus in its body but its immune system is such that it can coexist with the virus. We have to be extra careful from now on so that these viruses do not spread to us. One way is to start looking for alternatives to these animal farms or ‘Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. It’s time we should encourage alternative meat enterprises and if possible welcome lifestyles like veganism.

We are all suffering in this corona epidemic. Many have lost loved ones. We have to be careful now onward that there is no next epidemic once this epidemic is over. Hopefully, this critical period will pass and we will start taking measures to avoid another epidemic from now on.

Debanjan Borthakur

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I am a research assistant at University of Toronto. My research areas include experimental psychology and neuroscience. I occasionally write articles on sociopolitical issues.
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