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Report shows preventing pandemics can be 100 times cheaper than fighting them

A new report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) revealed that new pandemics will not only increase in frequency, but also that it will become more expensive to respond to them than to reduce the risks of them ever happening to begin with. The report estimates that it could be around 100 times cheaper to prevent new outbreaks than respond to them.

Specialists behind the report suggest that taxing meat consumption and livestock production is one of a series of policy options that could reduce and address pandemic risks. In other words, we need to shift away from animal products in order to protect our safety.

Pandemics don't come as surprises

Covid-19 is just one more on the long list of pandemics and infectious diseases caused by the exploitation and consumption of animals all around the world. It is at least the sixth global pandemic since the Spanish Flu in 1918. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 75% of all emerging pathogens during the past decade have been zoonotic, meaning they started in nonhuman animals before infecting humans. That was the case for the Swine and Bird/Avian flu, the Mad Cow disease, Ebola, and even HIV/AIDS, which was traced back to the hunting of chimps several decades ago. With the global expansion of intensive factory farming into wildlife habitats and the jamming of animals in tinier and tinier unsanitary spaces, the outbreak of new infectious diseases of pandemic scale is highly probable.

But these are not the only mechanisms linking factory farming to new pandemics. 75% of all the antibiotics produced in the world are used on animals in factory farms. The systematic and arbitrary usage of these drugs in animal agriculture is stimulating the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, which has already had catastrophic consequences for human medicine and global health. Relatedly, deforestation is not only linked to higher risks of infectious disease outbreaks, but it is also estimated that the investments needed to prevent it would be only half the cost of what is spent on delayed responses to addressing it after the fact.

Back in 2004, the American Public Health Association (APHA) issued a resolution calling for a moratorium on factory farms because the evidence of impending catastrophes—both for animals and for humans—was already crystal clear. The coronavirus pandemic we now face is not a surprise; we could have prepared ourselves for this. If we do not demand urgent change to our food systems, the next global pandemic will be fast approaching. According to Dr. Michael Greger, author of How to Survive a Pandemic, the emergence of a new zoonotic disease with the potential to wipe out half of humanity is “never a matter of if, but when”.

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