December 2, 2020

One Root Cause of Pandemics Few People Think About

It’s our seemingly insatiable desire to eat meat

This article from Scientific American raises the question that a major causes of pandemics might be the factory farming of animals.  The conditions that animals are often farmed in today, crowding tens of thousands of animals together, might just serve as “amplifiers” for viral pandemics.  The article states:

Indeed, the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009 appears to have originated in a pig confinement operation in North Carolina. And while the H5N1 bird flu outbreak in 1997 evidently originated in Chinese chicken farms (case fatality rate 60 percent), a similar bird flu in the U.S. just five years ago led American poultry farmers to kill tens of millions of their birds to contain the outbreak, which thankfully never made the jump into the human population…

But you can only play viral Russian roulette for so long, which is why public health experts concerned about zoonotic diseases have for years been ringing the alarm about the industrial farming of animals. Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, calls factory farming a “perfect storm environment” for infectious diseases. “If you actually want to create global pandemics,” he warns, “then build factory farms.”

An American Public Health Association journal editorial observed: “It is curious, therefore, that changing the way humans treat animals—most basically, ceasing to eat them or, at the very least, radically limiting the quantity of them that are eaten—is largely off the radar as a significant preventive measure.”  Which is true- it was certainly off my radar.  I am very much a meat eater, although lately, because of my heart disease and pre-diabetic condition, I am trying to cut back the amount of meat-centered meals in our house.  I’ve been largely unsuccessful, although I have substituted chicken and fish for beef and pork to a certain extent.  But chicken is not a good substitute as this article notes that factory farming of chickens constitute some of the worst abuses.

I’m well aware of the environmental problems associated with CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) including noxious odors and manure waste discharge.  CAFOs are regulated in Indiana, although according to some, not very well.  But it had not occurred to me until I read this article how our mass-raising and slaughtering of animals for food could be the start of the next big global pandemic.  So the Scientific American article suggests:

Diversifying our methods of meat production would not only offer us a chance to reduce pandemic risk by cutting down the number of live animals we must raise for food, but it also could help mitigate numerous other risks as well. Whether the concern is climate change, antibiotic resistance, deforestation, animal welfare or more, the benefits of broadening our protein portfolio are manifold.

There is no way I’m going totally vegan anytime soon.  But I really need to seriously research some vegan recipes and make at least two nights a week a meat-free dinner. Gotta start somewhere… Food for thought, right?



  1. Michael Bell says

    What a coincidence! We had our church small group last evening. One member and friend is a chicken farmer. Just three hours ago he showed me a picture of his barn, with the 23,000 chicks that had just arrived.

    I do know that the entire barn is cleaned out and disinfected between each flock of chickens so there can be no transmission between flocks.

  2. Pellicano Solitudinis says

    Most people in most times and places have not been able to enjoy cheap, unlimited animal products, and have developed cuisines to accommodate that fact. Spend your meat & dairy budget on genuinely free-range products, and make the smaller amount that your money will purchase stretch. A few vegetarian or even vegan meals a week, a few meals with a small amount of meat as flavouring, and maybe one meal with a modest portion of meat as the star ingredient. In this way, your budget won’t suffer too much, what animal products you buy will have fewer ethical and environmental repercussions, and your health will benefit too, without having to give up your favourites completely.

    • Michael Bell says

      I believe (and I may be mistaken here) that free range are more likely to pick up diseases from outside sources.

      Plus, in Canada anyway, free range is only true for 8 months of the year.

      • Pellicano Solitudinis says

        That may well be true, but are those diseases as serious as the ones that occur in CAFOs?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Most people in most times and places have not been able to enjoy cheap, unlimited animal products, and have developed cuisines to accommodate that fact.

      Which made Meat a Prestige Food; if you had Meat, You Were Rich. And/or Highborn.

      Which meant that when Meat became more available, people flocked to meat-heavy diets to show they were prosperous.

      And then you have all-meat fad diets for weight loss like Atkins and Paleo…

    • David Greene says

      Maybe I’ll finally try one of those “Impossible Burgers.”

  3. I do know that the entire barn is cleaned out and disinfected between each flock of chickens so there can be no transmission between flocks.

    I may be wrong but I doubt things are quite this absolute. A deep disinfecting of a building that can house over 10K birds is not a trivial operation. And would likely blow out the profits of the operation.

    Not that they don’t do a decent job. But “can be no transmission” is a very high standard. Especially given the build environment of such a building. Mike’s point is that with a 99.999% stopping of transmission we will still get infections that spread. And viruses are hard to kill. Much harder than bacteria.

    • Michael Bell says

      There is also a significant time period of several weeks between each flock.

      • Time isn’t so much the issue as the difficulty of all the nooks and cranies of such a place. You can’t just dunk the entire huge building into a vat of 90% alchohol.

        And you might disagree. I’m just not one to believe in absolutes with things like this. Seen too many industrial operations to believe such things can be run at the level of cleaning required for semi fab plants.

        • Michael Bell says

          I am not an expert in this field, so I don’t have a strong opinion in terms of agreeing or disagreeing.

    • Can’t do it for a barn of chickens, but multiple governments worldwide are hoping to do it for their entire countries (if not the world)…

      • Covid-19 might be imposible to eradicate entirely. It all depends on where it can live. If only in people then like smallpox we might have a chance. If it can live in dogs, cats, rabbits, whatever without much in the way of symptoms then we likely will have this around for at least a few decades if not forever.

        The scientists know that the issue just now is not eradication but getting the number of cases down to where it is not spreading very much.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I remember the panic party after 9/11.
      All these body scanner makers claiming a 99.99% success rate in detecting weapons & explosives.

      Sounds real good until you realize that with the traffic volume of a major airport like La Guardia, O’Hare, or LAX 99.99% accurate means a false alarm EVERY FEW MINUTES. And the standard response of American airports for any alarm (attested to by Israeli consultants) was “EVACUATE THE AIRPORT!!!”

      Every Few Minutes…

      • David Greene says

        A 99.99% success rate? What does that even mean: one out of every 10,000 weapons gets through or one out of every 10,000 passengers is falsely detected as having a weapon? Because the airports are not getting evacuated every few minutes 🙂

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          After tests showed that even a 1 in 10000 false positive would trip every few minutes at major airport volume, they had serious second thoughts. And the Israeli security types they had as consultants were able to show them other methods to secure bombs etc without evacuating the airport. (Such as secure bomb-proof containers to put the suspect packages in for disposal.)

          It’s a lot like the initial reaction to COVID — “EVERYBODY STAY LOCKED DOWN! FOREVER!!!:

          • Remember those versions of the scanners could reveal their nude form underneath the clothes, so the company had to develop the software to put a generic grey body form to cover up the image?

  4. ” really need to seriously research some vegan recipes”

    Lentils are the key. They provide protein, and can also give that satisfying sense of having eaten something substantial.

    Chop a large onion or its equivalent and saute in olive oil in a largish sauce pan. Toss in a large can (or two medium cans) of diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato sauce. Add a bit of salt and pepper and whatever herbs you like. A handful of Italian seasoning will work just fine, but I usually mix and match what I like, which in practice means a bit extra basil along with the oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Now add one cup of lentils. Simmer for about an hour or so. Serve over the starch of your choice. I usually use couscous, but rice or noodles would work just fine. Leftovers reheat very well.

    This is my go-to dish if I am feeding vegan friends, but I also make it just because I like it. I wouldn’t want it to be the main staple of my diet, but it is in the rotation.

    • Mike the Geologist says

      Thanks, Richard. I like lentils- good recipe.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Quinoa is a great source of vegetable protein. It doesn’t have the “meaty” consistency of lentils, nor the variety, but it does give the body a deep, warm glow that comes from having eaten something good for it.

      Since my wife is from the part of South America that quinoa comes from we caught the quinoa wave early ( another mega capitalist opportunity missed ), but I have since learned that since quinoa is now the darling of the progressive urban tapas bar crowd, it’s off the menu for Andean peasants who can no longer afford it.

      That said, my favorite week of the year out of the Orthodox fasting calendar is Cheesefare Week, where animal proteins in the form of cheese, milk, and eggs are allowed, and depending on your jurisdiction, livers, kidneys, and tripe, etc. That would be doable for me on a permanent basis.

      Has anybody ever made a study on how many fewer of us there would have to be in order to live sensibly together on the Earth?

      • Yes. And you don’t want to know. 🙁

        • Burro (Mule) says

          No, actually I would like to know what the study says. The study I wouldn’t like to read is the one written by Really Smart People™ that outlines possible (humanitarian, of course) criteria for selecting them.

          Not that it matters. I have a gut feeling we’re on the verge of finding out, free-market style.

          • Consider that this a “back of the napkin” guesstimate by a source that does not have an “eco-socialist” axe to grind. I can show you studies that are much less sanguine even than this…

            ‘Humans are consuming and polluting resources — aquifers and ice caps, fertile soil, forests, fisheries and oceans — accumulated over geological time, tens of thousands of years or longer.

            Wealthy countries consume out of proportion to their populations. As a fiscal analogy, we live as if our savings account balance were steady income.

            According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, the Earth has 1.9 hectares of land per person for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average American uses about 9.7 hectares.

            These data alone suggest the Earth can support at most one-fifth of the present population, 1.5 billion people, at an American standard of living.”


            • Burro (Mule) says

              Don’t need, or even want, an American standard of living. Finland, Portugal, even Mexico would be fine. The important thing is to stop using our savings account as if it were steady income. I read somewhere that the accumulations of resources acquired over “geological time” were actually a problem that, hey presto! required a species capable of generating an industrial civilization that would use them up. After the resources were gone, Gaia could dispose of the species as no longer necessary.

              Of course, this came from one of the Archdruid’s correspondents, and the train of thought was more pantheist/nihilistic than even that crowd could tolerate, but it stuck with me. How to square our current predicament with certain ecologically flavored Scriptures and with the general concept of God’s care and Providence. I mean, the Apocalypse is very clearly the Earth vomiting out the sin of its inhabitants but then there’s Genesis 8:22, Jeremiah 33:25 and so many others. Recently, I have been pursuing a line of inquiry that presupposes classical Christianity as a fulfillment of the earth-based religions of the Bronze Age.

              Socialism, hell.. I had a high school friend from Poland who said that the Party committee dropped off truckloads of piglets regularly at his family’s farm. They had to feed and raise the piglets until the truck came back and picked up the fullgrown hogs for slaughter, but they never got so much as a bit of headcheese. If any one of the piglets was defective, there’d be hell to pay, though. He said somewhere someone made the decision who’d get the bacon and who’d get the pigshit and nothing could be done about it. I mean that could work at the level of a family or maybe a parish, but at the level of a country that just sucks.

            • Meanwhile, many churches, not just Catholic, are promoting the idea that to rebuild the Christian church’s stature in America, Christians need to have more children! “Be fruitful & multiply” God said so we better do that.
              Never mind that neither the earth nor their parents can afford the large broods. God will magically provide…

              • I think we’ve fulfilled the multiply edict. I think we are there. That should do it for awhile.

                • David Greene says

                  You don’t understand!!! We must out-populate the Pagans!!! Sadly, some of them really do think like this.

                  • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                    Outbreed the Heathen.
                    Bedroom Evangelism.

                    Same idea behind the Lebensborn and Ceaucescu’s similar breeding plan to make Romania the biggest country in all the Warsaw Pact.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                It’s called “Outbreed the Heathen” and is actually pure Darwinism.

                “Survival of the Fittest” originally referred to relative reproductive success over long periods of time; those who produced more offspring generation after generation would dome to dominate the gene pool.

                God will magically provide…

                And if not, God will Rapture them into Heaven before anything bad can personally happen to them.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Human Extinction?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I have since learned that since quinoa is now the darling of the progressive urban tapas bar crowd, it’s off the menu for Andean peasants who can no longer afford it.

        Same with anotherTrendy superfood — Avocados.
        Avocado trees require a LOT of water, to the point that avocado plantations in Third World countries consume ALL the water for the cash crop, so there’s no water for the subsitence farmer peasants. And when Avocados became TRENDY among our More-Woke-Than-Thou Veganism-and-Vitamins Betters, a lot of countries went TOTAL Avocado Plantation Cash Crop economy.

        For what it’s worth, remember the Book of Revelation?
        Third Horseman of the Apocalypse?
        “A quart of barley for a day’s pay, but don’t touch the Olive Oil and Wine”?
        That refers to the olive oil-and-wine cash crop economy of the Roman province of Asia at the time of writing. Like King Cotton in the Old South (or Avocados today in Latin America), cash crop plantations (owned by absentee landlords in Rome) had taken over so much agricultural land the commoners of the province were always on the edge of famine. Screw Hal Lindsay, that reference was a dig on economic exploitation via cash-crop plantation colonial economy.

      • …but I have since learned that since quinoa is now the darling of the progressive urban tapas bar crowd, it’s off the menu for Andean peasants who can no longer afford it.

        This neatly summarizes my major gripe that I have been harping on, recently, on these channels. “Progress” is being made on the backs of the poor and marginalized.

        I’m out. Everyone enjoy their new world order.

    • It looks like a great recipe, Richard.

      Thank you! I’m trying it, yes.

      I have dear friends who are vegetarian, so for them, I do try to prepare something special also.

    • Lentils are good. A nice hearty lentil soup on a cold day is great.

      Other beans work too. I used make a big old pot of beans with smoked ham hocks, bacon, carrots, potatoes, onions, etc. from time to time

  5. Meat as a disease vector is only the tip of the iceberg. Meat animals, and their food and space demands, are a major pressure point on the environment. And you could feed a lot more people with the agricultural effort put into raising meat animals than you can with the meat that results.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What about if they WON’T eat plants, only Meat?
      I’ve got that problem with my roomie. He grew up in a rural Red State area with a meat-heavy diet and refuses to eat anything else. I have a lot of emergency reserves in my pantry but he refuses to eat any of it. And with the COVID lockdown, we are now dependent on Grubhub and Doordash — eating out with 50% delivery markup. Before the lockdown we were able to maintain separate diets and cook a lot at home, but not any more.

      • If I had a roommate who refused to alter his diet, and by his stubbornness forced me to eat his diet and pay a 50% markup for the “privilege”… I’d be out looking for a new roommate.

      • HUG,

        That is 2 companies, along with the Internet infrastructure companies, Amazon, FedEx, etc, along with companies like Dart (for all the to-go containers) are ones I should have invested in back in March…

  6. Also, experiment with some black bean burger recipes. They’re not a 100% replacement for hamburger, but there are some interesting ones out there.

  7. Good suggestions all but this is far past simple changes in individual behavior. Like an effective response to climate change or health care or race realtions this will require fundamental systemic change and without naming names this will invite a response from interests insisting on things staying the same, interests which are politically powerful and well-heeled monetarily. Too many folks are profiting mightily from things as they are.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      As there are “interests” who would profit from any “systemic” change. We are [non-voting] members of a local food co-op that is struggling to maintain its hippy-dippy ethos against a rising tide in its fortunes.

      We hate to admit it, but there’s a little of this guy hiding in the most Deadhead of us.

      • If somebody’s going to profit from systemic change, at least let it be change that will leave more than a sauna-steam wasteland for our great grand descendents.

      • Like C S Lewis I’m foursquare against the idea of utopia, a pernicious notion. We need real world solutions that don’t deny human needs and desires.. If folks can make a killing cleaning up the environment or providing universal healthcare or creating alternative energy sources more power to them!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And the CHRISTIANS are cheering it all on.
      “It’s All Gonna Burn.”
      “This World Is NOT My Home… I’m Just Passin’ Thru…”

      • David Greene says

        There is a difference between “Passin’ Thru” and “Passin’ Gas.” I don’t think they understand that 🙂

  8. In the US, we eat far more meat per capita than most other rich countries, and twice as much as we did a hundred years ago. We wouldn’t need to give up meat entirely to make a big difference – just switch to smaller portion sizes and have a few more meat-free meals.

  9. Clay Crouch says

    Do some research on Blue Zones. There are areas in the world that are considered to be the healthiest. Typically the diets in these areas include little or no meat.

  10. I’m not vegan either – though I suspect I will be eventually, for reasons such as MTG outlines here. I do eat a lot less meat than I did, though, as other options like Richard’s good suggestion of lentils have come to my attention over the years.

    Probably the best advice on adopting alternative eating habits (for whatever reason) is to insist that the foods we eat be consumed for what they actually are rather than as a substitute for something else – usually a less tasty substitute.

    Tofu wasn’t invented to be pretend chicken. It’s perfectly fine – as processed soy. Black beans, though they make reasonable burgers, I suppose, are probably better as a stew than as a reminder that Angus has wandered out the barn door. Carob is ok as carob; it’s a poor substitute for actual chocolate. Et cetera.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      When I cook at home, I cook veggie-heavy. Mostly soups and stews, where I can make a big batch and piece off it for a couple days. This began when I was eating lunch out, to balance off the meat-heavy lunches.

      But those days are over; see my comment above.

  11. Veggie Lexi says

    Went fully vegetarian over 14 years ago and never regretted it. My autoimmune disease is better since then too. Ditto and amen to much of what has been posted here. If you really want to see another reason to go vegetarian and/or free range, watch investigative videos of egg farms and cattle slaughter houses. After all, these are sentient beings that experience pain, and, are imbued with our Creator’s Spirit of Life too.

    • Christiane says

      My daughter in her teens went vegetarian for a time for the same reasons. What happened to the animals being slaughtered broke her heart.

  12. senecagriggs says

    Foods I won’t eat include liver, chitlings, pigs feet and calf brains. I DO EAT pulled pork sandwiches, the occasional gas station chili dog, fried chicken,tex-mex of dubious history and other fast foods. [ I live on the edge – dryly ] I don’t like alcoholic beverages; just simply never got into them. I don’t particularly have a moral reason not to drink wine, but it does cost money.

    • senecagriggs says

      Like shrimp, dislike oysters. Lobster out of my price range.

      • Christiane says

        Try fried oysters before you give up on them. Good ole Captain D’s are not too expensive. 🙂

    • David Greene says

      HaHa, I think the gas station chili dog has got to be way worse than anything on your “won’t eat” list! 🙂

  13. If we stuck with the meat, but eliminated the carbs and sugar that go along with those dishes, we’d all be healthier and happier.

    Also, local & sustainable meat is great for the environment. Grazing is far better for mother earth than some corporate farming practices. And I say this from Lancaster County, PA. I took a ride in a combine last week.

    There are a lot of big corporations that are pushing hard against meat…. not because it’s better for us and the earth, but because it’s expensive. Far more money can be made off of cheap grains for highly processed, addictive, garbage food.

    When health advocates say “shop around the edges of the supermarket” meat and fish are included. Better yet, shop at a local butcher, and know your sources. There are many ethical, honorable, local meat distributors.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I have found Stater Bros (a SoCal local supermarket chain) has a good meat department. More like an actual butcher shop than the usual meat department.

  14. I am not orthodox, but for the past two lent seasons I have followed their practice of what is basically a vegan diet. I am a big meat eater, but the practice really helped to change me. I routinely have meatless days and the meat portions I do eat are much smaller now.

  15. brianthegrandad says

    I have a small freezer containing white wax paper-wrapped red meat, meat from deer I took responsibly from the woods. Very free range, with zero antibiotics or hormones. I’m going Saturday morning to see if I can restock that freezer with my bow. Is that sustainable for a population the size of the US? Probably not, but if you look at the grocery store ads of just 60-70 years ago, you’ll see a wider variety of meats than just chicken, beef and pork. Rabbit was big on my parents’ childhood tables, ducks and geese too. But people don’t like to eat cute animals anymore. Disney ruined that with talking cartoon animals. In my teen years, we often bought a beef or a hog direct from people we knew, knowing they’d been grass-fed, and then picked up the meat from the local butcher. We kept it in the chest freezers my parents insisted on having, along with all the vegetables we put up from the garden, and the fish we caught in the local rivers. long ramble to say: choose variety, and things closer to the land. Probably easy for me to say with all my wealthy privilege. I understand many living on the edge of poverty in cities may not have access to this, but Burro’s co-op sounds like an attempt to provide it.

  16. My history is that my grandfather (born 1885) started a small slaughter house back around the turn of the last century. So long ago that they slaughtered a few hogs and cows at the end of each day then took the sides to the local ice house for overnight storage. They would pick them up in the morning and sell from that.

    Anyway, my family history (and the tree is fairly wide now) is of meat and potatoes with plants on the side.

    And while I’m still a meat eater it’s way less than the average and that of most of my relatives. And to them cutting back on meat is an attack on their manhood, faith, country, flag, and just about everything else.

    Oh, well.

  17. Confession: I’m no help here. I live in Texas where we have feed lots for cattle that make whole counties smell. It’s really horrific but I’m sitting in a burger joint as I type this. I guess we choose our battles in life and this is one I have yet to engage in, if ever. Some of the best steakhouses in the world are in Dallas/ Fort Worth. I don’t feel great about it but I get a demerit on this one.

  18. I basically do what Pellico is doing, eating less meat and buying from sustainable sources that treat the animals well and don’t tax the land; this includes eggs as well. I’m fortunate to have grass-fed beef producers in my county. The really difficult thing for me is cutting back on fish; I really enjoy it, but we’re depleting our fisheries at an alarming rate.

    MTG, if you’re reading this far, also include dishes with chick peas/garbanzos in your meatless nights. There are some good Italian dishes featuring them; I watch Lidia Bastianich, and I’m sure you can find some ideas among her recipes, and elsewhere.

    I think the most important thing we can do on a wider level is encourage backyard and vacant-lot gardening, and figure out a way to eliminate food deserts in urban areas.


    • Love legumes of all kinds, but have trouble digesting them these days. Same trouble with many fresh vegetables and fruits. Re: legumes: my Italian mother made many dishes that involved only some variety of bean with some form of pasta — ditalini with lentils in a very light tomato sauce, butter beans with elbows in another kind of light tomato sauce, chick peas (we called the ceci) with ziti, etc., etc. She also combined vegetables of all kinds, including cauliflower, broccoli, escarole, with varieties of pasta, although those dishes lacked any protein at all. My favorite was pasta e patate, a delicious dish of potatoes and spaghetti in a delicious oregano infused tomato sauce (although we called sauce gravy!).

    • I’m with Robert on this, I was a happy almost-vegetarian for years, with very occasional lapses. But ten years ago, when I turned 60 I suddenly developed all kinds of digestive sensitivities, including legumes of all kinds which had been a staple of my diet. So I have reverted to fish now, organic free range chicken once a week and eggs, but this is a case of the spirit being willing but the flesh not cooperating. I still fantasize sometimes about chick peas though, my favourite …….

  19. Arghhh! In mod…


    • will someone please let Dana out of jail?

      thank you

      (this from someone who is also often in trouble)

  20. Klasie Kraalogies says

    The amount of meat people eat is astounding. I do love my meat – as I love beer and wine and many other things – but because I love it, it means I care about what I put in my mouth, how it tastes, where it comes from, etc etc. The root problem, especially in North America, is a complete dysfunctional relationship with food in general. And that goes deep into the basic philosophy of life, across religious boundaries.

    Hmm, I can feel a post coming on……

  21. with meat, less is ‘more’ when you cook beef with lots of beans and rice

    throw in some chilis or seasonings

    and feast

  22. Give me a porterhouse with mushrooms and fries and I will be very happy.