Preparing for the Next Pandemic but Not Prepared to Ditch Meat

By William J. Furney

Almost everyone agrees it’s a case of when, not if, another catastrophic pandemic will erupt, killing millions more and bringing the world to a shuddering halt all over again. This is not a once-off event, and if you think it might be, you should cast your mind back to the last big pandemic, just over 100 years ago, when the Spanish flu killed 50 million people. 

Then, there were a mere 1.8 billion people on the planet and medicine was rudimentary, compared to today’s advanced medical research and techniques and a population explosion fast creeping towards 8 billion people, most fueling and satisfying themselves with an animal-rich diet that’s the root cause of all our woes, including this deadly new bug. 

World leaders including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez are scrambling to come up with a global agreement — an International Pandemic Treaty, as it’s touted — to introduce ways to prevent another devastating health crisis from taking hold, as the world remains mired in the grip of the novel coronavirus crisis that has so far led to over 2.8 million deaths and plunged countries back into lockdown this Easter weekend. 

They say they’re acting in the spirit of how the world came together to forge peace and prosperity in the aftermath of World War 2, which claimed around 75 million lives, including an estimated 40 million civilians. “The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge to the global community since the 1940s,” the heads of 25 governments said in a joint letter published in newspapers around the world this week. 

The initiative is aimed at building “a more robust international health architecture that will protect future generations” from the inevitability of future pandemics and health crises. “The question is not if, but when,” the leaders said. “Together, we must be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and effectively respond to pandemics in a highly coordinated fashion. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

They could start by asking obfuscating China how the newly discovered virus made the species leap from animals to humans, apparently at a traditional market in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province sometime late in 2019. Because Beijing is not saying and merely paid limp lip service to a visiting, investigating team from the World Health Organisation, refusing to share vital data and open up about what happened during their probe in February. 

Even embattled WHO chief Tedros — late to the global emergency and praising China for its corona efforts even as Chinese authorities clamped down on those speaking out — is changing his out-of-tune China warble. The Ethiopian and first non-medic head of the global health body said this week that WHO investigators’ report into the origins of the coronavirus in China was “not the end” and that “all hypotheses remain on the table” — including that it may have escaped from a bat-virus lab in Wuhan.

He declared: “Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers.”

Tedros wants countries to sign up to an International Pandemic Treaty without delay. “The time to act is now,” he said, following publication of the leaders’ letter. “The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one. We must not allow the memories of this crisis to fade and go back to business as usual.”

The mechanics of such a planetary pact are, the missive says, “greatly enhancing international cooperation to improve, for example, alert systems, data-sharing, research and local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter measures, such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.”

The signatories also want a “ ‘One Health’ approach that connects the health of humans, animals and our planet.”

What the aspirational carnivores should have said, and the answer they’re all grasping for but unwilling to acknowledge, is: simply go vegan. But no one wants to face up to the giant elephant in the virus-riddled room.

Adopting a plant-based diet would drastically improve the health of humans, protect our fellow sentient beings and help save our vastly imperilled planet that’s in such dire trouble from main ills like the polluting dairy and meat industry. Few people want to own up to the reality that all these deadly viruses spring from eating animals.

So the lofty world- and people-saving ambitions trotted out by governments and the WHO are, ultimately, hollow. It’s a deadly paradox that this pandemic-prevention move is mostly supported by meat-eating men whose addiction they think makes them manly but is killing everyone and everything around them.

  • Title illustration by Laura Makaltses.

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