Governments throughout the world should now cooperate with each other to try to stop future pandemics.
In 1700, well before the birth of factory industrial capitalism, 95% of the land that was free of ice was either wild or used by human-beings very lightly so that it could be regarded as ”semi-natural”: By the year 2000, that 95% had fallen to 5%. Wet markets in which relatively rich people buy exotic killed wild animals, or the trade in those animals are only symptoms of the diseases of industrial capitalism which heats and poisons the atmosphere and poisons land, oceans, seas and rivers, animals and plants.
Over millions of years in normal conditions zoonotic pathogens such as viruses live on various animals causing them few problems. Animals and viruses co-exist- tropical forests house the largest numbers of all sorts of species- including both pathogens and their hosts, animals. The greater the variety of host animals the pathogens live on, the more likely it is that pathogens will find new hosts. For pathogens to find those new hosts, they need to be excreted by host animals – including by sneezing, bleeding or coughing them out. Most excretions do not have significant results for new hosts because there are generally strong barriers preventing transmission to a new host. But occasionally, those barriers disappear, and the parasite finds a new host in which it undergoes multiple genetic modifications which assist it to multiply rapidly.
In this way, more than 300 new infectious diseases have occurred since the 1940s including HIV, Zika, Ebola, Sars, Mers, and many new strains of flu. Previously unknown microbes migrate from other animals to human beings in continual “zoonotic spillovers”(1). The main causes of this are habitat destruction-mainly deforestation and industrialised agriculture- such as huge numbers of pigs, cows or chickens being forced to live together in stressed “factory-like” concentrations, in close contact with human beings.
Contact tracing linked the infections which caused the COVID-19 pandemic back to the Hunan Wholesale Sea Food Market in Wuhan, China, where several types of wild animals were sold. In addition to China, The U.S.A. and Europe have served as the starting points for new influenza-like pandemic infectious diseases as well, including the emergence of Ebola in West Africa and Zika in Brazil.
As industrial production of pigs, poultry, and cows expands this increases the interface with, and spillover of, new pathogens, including COVID-19. Land grabs into remaining primary forest and smallholder-held farmland worldwide drive deforestation and development leading to the emergence of pandemic diseases.
This “livestock revolution” started in the USA. It involves billions of animals – in particular pigs, cows and chickens being confined in colossal facilities which produce billions of animals to be slaughtered and sold to companies such as McDonald’s as meat. This revolution has been spreading worldwide – including to China. There have been dozens of outbreaks of disease emanating from these facilities –none yet as virulent as COVID-19.
Genetic monocultures of domestic animals remove whatever immune firebreaks may have been available to slow down pathogen transmission. Many new pathogens previously held in check by long-evolved forest ecologies are being sprung free, threatening the whole world. Huge animal population sizes and densities facilitate rates of transmission. Such crowded conditions depress immune response. High throughput, a part of any industrial production, provides a continually renewed supply of susceptible animals. This provides the fuel for the evolution of virulence. So these facilities are liable to be afflicted with viruses from the wild, for example from excretions from bats flying over huge pig farms.
The diversity and complexity of huge tracts of land are being streamlined in such a way that previously boxed-in pathogens are spilling over into local livestock and human communities. The companies running these facilities now distribute the costs of their epidemiologically dangerous operations to everyone else.
As they have with COVID-19, the diseases generated from animals in these facilities are liable in the future turn into pandemics which spread from the animals themselves to consumers, farmworkers and local environments, across the world. Food systems should be socialized in such a way that dangerous pathogens are kept from emerging in the first place. That will require reintegrating food production into the needs of rural communities first. That requires agroecological practices that protect the environment and farmers as they grow our food.
Huge animal agribusinesses must be stopped continuing to cause serious unnecessary damage to public health throughout the world. Highly capitalized production of food depends on practices that endanger humanity worldwide by helping to unleash new deadly pandemics.
Malm,2020, , Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, War Communism in the Twenty-first Century, Verso, London and New York
Wallace, R.,2020, Capitalist agriculture and Covid-19: A deadly combination, 11 March, Downloaded from https://climateandcapitalism.com/2020/03/11/capitalist-agriculture-and-covid-19-a-deadly-combination/ on 22.12.2020