Whether you’ve caught it or not, we are all hit hard by Covid-19. It holds us in limbo. We struggle to know how to educate our children as schools close, how to care for our older family members while isolating, how to pay the bills without enough work, how to keep ourselves and others safe physically and mentally.
As we all grapple with the tough personal impacts of the spread of coronavirus, it’s easy to feel powerless, overwhelmed, and downright awful -- like we’re living through a zombie apocalypse. Few of us actually have more time. We are instead dizzied by the pace of the change demanded of us -- so dizzied that we’ve stopped asking questions. And that’s dangerous.
Right now, decisions are being made for us that will chart a course for years to come. When crisis hits, unjust systems begin to show their weaknesses, and it’s in times like these when opportunists flourish. What would be considered risky under normal circumstances is portrayed as necessary. It’s not sci-fi, it’s right now -- the emergence of “coronavirus dictatorship” politics.
This is disaster capitalism running full-speed ahead to push through the kind of dastardly changes now that will be hard to undo later. Unfortunately, these changes will also make it easier for even more deadly pandemics to arise in the future.
Fortunately, the window of opportunity now opened is two-way. For a short time, and especially now at the beginning of it all, our voices are amplified by this emergency. When a tree falls in the woods, if everyone is around to hear it, you can bet it’ll make a sound. We have an opportunity to evolve. Learning from our past and considering our future, this is an unprecedented moment for rebooting the system and stopping the next outbreak in its tracks.
Let’s get straight to the point. If we find ourselves frustrated at the travel restrictions, lockdowns, and self-isolation necessary to combat Covid-19’s spread, we need to ask ourselves what we chose to put on the dinner table. The root cause of this pandemic and 70% of new diseases that have emerged recently are from animals and directly related to animal-sourced food.
Covid-19 is the tip of the iceberg not only of what is to come but also of what has already been. Think Zika virus, Ebola (11,325 dead), swine flu (151,700 to 575,400 dead), HIV-AIDS (36 million dead), Asian flu (1.1 million dead), 1968 flu (1 million dead), and Spanish flu (20-50 million dead) to name a few. That’s millions of people that were killed in the 20th century alone by animal-induced pandemics -- whether originating from birds, pigs, or wild animals.
There are five changes that we can demand now to reduce the risk of pandemics like this from ever happening again. We need a global campaign to make this happen.
Ban the wildlife trade - We call for a coordinated and enforced global ban on consumption and trade of wild animals, including for the food, textile, clothing, pharmaceutical, and exotic pet industries. Although it has loopholes, China’s recent ban on wildlife trade paves the way. We need to expand this ban to close its loopholes and apply it widely under new international regulations designed to protect humanity from future pandemics.
Transition to organic products - We call for a complete transition to organic animal products to prevent the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry and slow the rate of antibiotic resistance. Although Covid-19 is not bacterial, antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill more than 23,000 Americans a year, not to mention tens of thousands of others around the planet. In some countries, 80% of medically important antibiotics are used by the food industry, and the WHO already called for farmers and the food industry to stop using antibiotics routinely in healthy animals in 2017. By outlawing antibiotic use in the animal industry, we will prevent worse pandemics from arising in the future.
End factory farming - We call for governments to abolish factory farming and the international trade of livestock and their byproducts. The industrialization of the animal industry exponentially multiplies the health threats to humans across the globe. In the words of one biologist, “You couldn’t design a better system to breed deadly diseases.” Although smallholder farming also contributes to disease emergence, by ending factory farming, we will be one step closer to preventing such dangerous pandemics from beginning in the first place.
Rewild grazing zones - We call for global action to rewild grazing zones by extending the land area protected around current natural areas and compensating communities affected. Biodiversity helps regulate diseases but is destroyed by human activities like deforestation, fragmentation, changing land usage, and urban expansion, “eliminating the buffering effect that biodiversity and ecosystems provide, increasing the risk of the next pandemic.” By rewilding land that is currently used for livestock, we will help create a barrier that reduces the risk of another Covid-19-like pandemic.
Redirect perverse subsidies - We call for all subsidies currently used to support the livestock and animal industry to be redirected to help pay for the changes demanded above. Doubtful that this will be enough? Consider that for every minute you’ve spent reading this post, the public provided $1 million USD in farm subsidies globally. On the other hand, redirecting subsidies to invest in transforming land use would bring returns 15 times what we put in. The industry responsible for unleashing Covid-19 and other pandemics must be held to account for the health, economic, and social damage caused (not to mention the climate emergency and environmental devastation). By repurposing these subsidies, we will incentivize these industries to transition to ethical policies and actions that help protect us from future pandemics.
Even though leaders with power are still calling the shots, we have a global leadership gap right now that is crying out to be filled. Who will be the opportunists to fill it? Do we want that gap filled by those who place profit over people, free trade over freedom, pandemics over policy change?
If there’s ever been a day worth seizing, it’s today, because the window won’t stay open long. Covid-19 lays bare the injustices built into our global systems like the inept wizard behind Oz. The truth is that this pandemic is neither an accident nor a conspiracy -- it is a consequence, a consequence of the way that we’ve set up the world.
While it remains true that Covid-19 and many other pandemics would never take place in a fully vegan world, the changes demanded above will bring us closer to stopping future threats. As individuals, while we demand change, let’s also be brave enough to embody it ourselves by saying “No!” to all animal products. If we wouldn’t give our hard-earned cash to companies that profit from child labor or a myriad of other corporate-caused injustices, why would we support a system that unleashes pandemics and destroys our planet?
Many of our current global systems create and exacerbate crises like this. Right now, change that once seemed radical is reasonable. Let’s use our voices (even if we don’t all have extra time in our isolating days) to make sure that reason rules the day so that it will be impossible to return to a world that is so very pandemic-prone. If we act now, we can demand change that stops the next Covid-19 before it begins.