Our cruel treatment of animals led to the coronavirus


Our cruel treatment of animals led to the coronavirus

15 April 2020
It is these very conditions that facilitate the emergence of new infectious diseases and that also inflict horrific harms on animals — being kept in confined conditions and then butchered. Simply put, the coronavirus pandemic is a result of our gross maltreatment of animals.

Those who think that this is a Chinese problem rather than a human one should think again. There is no shortage of zoonoses that have emerged from human maltreatment of animals. The most likely origin of H.I.V. (human immunodeficiency virus), for example, is S.I.V. (simian immunodeficiency virus), and the most likely way in which it crossed the species barrier is through blood of a nonhuman primate butchered for human consumption. Similarly, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease probably had its origins in its bovine analogue — bovine spongiform encephalopathy (B.S.E.), or “mad cow disease.” The most probable mechanism of transmission is through human consumption of infected cattle.

There is the obvious and then there is what should be obvious. The obvious is that the coronavirus pandemic has brought much of the human world to a standstill. Many countries are in lockdown. So far, more than 1.7 million have been infected, more than 100,000 have died, and billions live in fear that the numbers of sick and dead will rise exponentially. Economies are in recession, with all the hardship that entails for human well-being.

What should be obvious, but may not be to many, is that none of this should come as a surprise. That there would be another pandemic was entirely predictable, even though the precise timing of its emergence and the shape of its trajectory were not. And there is an important sense in which the pandemic is of our own making as humans. A pandemic may seem like an entirely natural disaster, but it is often — perhaps even usually — not.