The coronavirus has been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) and described as an “unprecedented outbreak" during a press conference held on January 30th. But the animal production and consumption industry may yet be behind other cases of superbug outbreaks in the near future.
According to the UN's World Health Organization, of all human diseases, 60% originate in animals. Currently, 700,000 people die every year as a result of infection by drug-resistant bacteria, caused by abusive use of antibiotics in both human and animal medicine. But by 2050, the United Nations Interagency Coordination Group (IACG) on Antimicrobial Resistance estimates that 10 million people will die each year due to antibiotic resistance. Comparing this to other major epidemics such as influenza, which has a reported death toll of approximately 650,000 people per year, antibiotic resistance is predicted to be significantly higher, and therefore presents a higher level of risk to people, according to the UN.
As of February 3rd, 360 people have died of coronavirus and over 17,000 have been infected, most of them in China. Cases have been confirmed in 20 other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, and Germany.
The virus is spreading quickly, and growing evidence suggests that the outbreak started with animals. Earlier this week, scientists at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, a governmental agency for public health, confirmed that they have isolated a new strain of coronavirus from samples taken at the meat market in the city of Wuhan, indicating that the virus stems from wild animals on sale at the market. These types of markets are popular among Chinese consumers for selling all types of meat, including the most traditional ones, such as beef, pork, chicken and seafood, but also wild ones, like live snakes, turtles, wolf pups, guinea pigs, bamboo rats, hedgehogs, and many others.
The international NGO Sinergia Animal wants to use this opportunity to alert people that, while campaigns against the trade of wild animals arise and are important, there is a problem regarding livestock that is being ignored by consumers and by authorities. "The World Health Organization warns that superbugs originating from the irresponsible use of antibiotics could kill more than cancer, and kill far more than epidemics such as coronavirus and influenza, in the near future”, said Carolina Galvani, Sinergia Animal Executive Director.
Three-quarters of global antibiotics are given to livestock
Nearly 75% of antibiotics used around the world are given to animals raised for food, and experts project that this antimicrobial consumption will rise by 67% by 2030, and by nearly 100% in Brazil, Uruguay, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
These substances are widely used in livestock production. Pigs and chickens are raised in industrial farms, in overcrowded and in poor sanitary conditions. "Millions of animals are confined for their entire lives in industrial factory farms and many receive antibiotics continuously, without even being sick, simply to prevent diseases or to increase their productivity. These animals then become resistant to antibiotics given to them in low doses during the production cycle, and then contaminate the food chain and humans directly with drug-resistant superbugs. Hundreds of thousands of people die every year from antibiotic resistance, more than from epidemics, but there is no major alarm from society and authorities about it", explains Galvani.
Photo: We Animals Media
Photo: Andrew Skowron
A study, published in the journal ‘Science’ last September, revealed that antibiotic-resistant hotspots around the world are already a reality. The main zones are the northeast of India, the northeast of China and the Red River delta in Vietnam, and are now emerging in Kenya, Morocco, Uruguay, southern Brazil, central India, and southern China.
The research revealed that the main affected areas are located in the Global South, where in order to ensure the demand for meat is met, animal production has been intensified. This could lead to an apocalyptic scenario for public health since these regions have fewer resources to combat outbreaks and usually have poorer sanitary conditions.
Since 2006, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics for animal growth promotion, but no similar measure has yet to be taken in several countries. “We should all be better informed about what we are eating and the threats that industrial farming is posing to our planet. One of the best things we can do to prevent animals from being raised in such unnatural and unhealthy conditions is to adopt a responsible and healthy diet”, adds Galvani. Please consider stop eating animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs.