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Viruses emerging from chicken farms can wipe out half of humanity, expert alerts

Every year, billions of chickens are raised for their meat and eggs around the world. Like any other industry, intensive animal agriculture aims for maximum efficiency and profit while investing the least expense. Therefore, animals in factory farms are often raised in overcrowded barns that lack ventilation and natural light and have poor sanitary conditions; there is irresponsible use of antibiotics, limited or no veterinary attention, and virtually no genetic variety. All of these are important drivers for new diseases. Such a situation has the potential to end half of humanity, an expert alerts.

Michael Greger, an American scientist and physician, recently published a book called "How to Survive a Pandemic," which warns that the world may face other pandemics, which could be much stronger than the COVID-19 if we continue to breed and farm chickens the way we currently do.

"With pandemics explosively spreading a virus from human to human, it's never a matter of if, but when," said Greger. He asserts that an apocalyptic virus emanating from overcrowded and unsanitary chicken farms has the potential to wipe out half of humanity. "Civilization as we know it would cease."

Credits: Andrew Skowron

In his book, Greger also stresses that there are several disease outbreaks that started with animal consumption, which are called zoonotic diseases. He cites the H5N1 outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997 as the first example. During that pandemic, the government killed 1.3 million chickens in an attempt to eliminate the virus, but since then, there have been two more outbreaks between 2003 and 2009 outside China, which leads us to understand that these types of pandemics never stop.

Another example is the avian influenza (avian flu), a virus that attacks birds. Between 1996 and 2008, HPAI viruses emerged at least 11 times. Studies show that the emergence of new outbreaks is directly related to poultry production, greatly intensified due to increasing consumer demand.

As the human population grows, the demand for food does too, as well as industrial livestock farming. This has severe consequences: animals are raised in extreme confinement and poor sanitary conditions, and the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture and the consequent resistance to these drugs is on the rise, along with the consumption of wild animals that carry serious diseases. Additionally, the deforestation caused by animal farming is increasing, which exposes us more to wild animals and pathogens.

But Greger, the internationally-recognized expert on public health issues, is not the only one to highlight the link between intensive agriculture and pandemics. Recently, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report stating, among other things, that factors like agricultural intensification, increased demand for animal protein, deforestation, and climate change could lead to the emergence of new pandemics.

The institution highlights that, in many medium- and low-income countries, there is a rapid increase in the consumption of animal products, making meat production grow 260%, and egg production grow 340% globally in the last 50 years. It comes with no surprise that, according to the report, "since 1940, agricultural intensification measures such as dams, irrigation projects, and factory farms have been associated with more than 25 percent of all—and more than 50 percent of zoonotic—infectious diseases that have emerged in humans".

If we want to avoid future pandemics, we have to change our entire food system. We need to eventually shift away from animal products to a more plant-based diet. Stopping the consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy is one of the best things we can do for the environment and for the world's public health, not to mention that each of us would be collaborating for a more compassionate and fairer world for animals. Click here to learn how to start now

Sinergia Animal wants to transform the food industry, which is why it works in countries of the Global South, such as Colombia, Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, asking the largest companies in these countries to stop using or marketing chicken eggs. Help us keep putting pressure on companies in the Global South by donating:


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