From plate to pandemic: how we can prevent another global health crisis

01 November 2022

By David Neale, Animals Asia's Animal Welfare Director

As Covid 19 continues to destroy lives and negatively impact global economies, evidence of our ability to sleepwalk into another global health crisis which has the potential to be far worse than the current one, comes from the current global rise in Avian influenza cases - known more commonly as Bird flu.

The rise in bird flu cases

Severely sick and dead wild birds are washing up along our shores and beaches, and international conservation organisations are documenting bird deaths which are devastating entire breeding bird populations and threatening endangered species.

Over 100 new avian influenza outbreaks in poultry production systems were reported between June and August 2022 with numbers expected to rise again as we approach the winter. This has led to the slaughter and disposal of over 2 million birds from 13 countries and territories covering the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. With estimates suggesting that over 300 million birds have been killed because of bird flu outbreaks alone between 2005 and 2021.

Bird to human transmission

Bird flu mostly affects birds, but strains of the virus have been known to cross over into humans, leading to high death rates.

While transmission from birds to humans remains rare and short-lived, there is always the possibility that the virus could mutate into something else, which could pose a substantial global health risk if it crosses over to humans. 

A breeding ground for bird flu and other viruses

The ever-growing bird meat production system forces birds into the intensive farming systems that led to the development of the first bird flu strains.

Hens, ducks, geese, turkeys and other farmed birds are confined in crowded industrial farms, genetically manipulated, and fed drugs and antibiotics to grow their bodies as quickly as possible. These conditions are the perfect breeding ground for new and deadly diseases to develop and spread.

The demand for cheap, convenient meat

Despite these threats, and the clear evidence that intensified bird meat production systems are the leading cause of new bird flu viruses, we continue to force chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys into smaller and smaller spaces, and breed near genetic clones of one another to feed our demand for cheap, fast, and convenient meat.

Prevention begins on our plates

To tackle these emerging global health crises, we must end the industrial production of animals for food, and so tackle emerging viruses before they have the opportunity to develop and thrive. 

To achieve this we need to end our reliance on cheap meat and our support for the political and economic system that rewards agribusiness for mass producing these products. We must embrace the plant-based protein alternatives already available and the cellular meat production systems that present the opportunity to produce meat and dairy protein without the need for animals.

An individual and global solution

Individually, we must reduce our consumption of animal products. Collectively, we must demand that public money is no longer used to prop up the factory farming systems that act as breeding grounds for such viruses, and insist that such funds be instead invested in  plant-based meat alternatives and cellular agriculture.

Globally, we need to expand scientific research and employment while spurring a transition to both animal-free and slaughter-free protein sources, transforming our global food system and ending the threat of future pandemics coming out of our industrial farming practices.

Read more:

The humane argument for veganism