(Updated May 19, 2020) Three-hundred leading physicians and health professionals in the UK are urging the public to go vegan in order to prevent future pandemics caused by zoonotic diseases.
Zoonotic diseases like the novel coronavirus can transfer from animals to humans.
Although some experts believe the virus started in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, last December—the exact origin of the disease has yet to be determined. The vast majority of experts do agree the COVID-19 outbreak likely originated in a wild animal before spreading to humans.
A number of celebrities and politicians have called for the global shutdown of the wildlife trade and live animal markets to reduce the risk of another zoonotic virus outbreak.
But more than 300 members of the Plant-Based Health Professionals UK—an organization that promotes plant-based diets for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases—want people to go further. They are backing the “No Meat May” campaign.
The members are urging the general public to make the connection between major disease outbreaks like coronavirus and animal agriculture.
Reducing Meat Consumption Our ‘Simplest and Strongest Defense’
Dr. Gemma Newman—who is also known as the Plant Powered Doctor and is a senior partner at a UK medical practice—told LIVEKINDLY that banning live animal markets will not be enough to prevent another pandemic.
She explained: “when COVID-19 was first identified, there was a perception that it was a disease of Chinese-origin that may only affect the Asian continent. Yet as the spread of this virus has shown, novel diseases are now a problem worldwide, due to the global society in which we live and the particularly high reproductive rate of this infection.”
She added, “despite bans on wet markets, it’s important to understand that pandemics can also from many animal agriculture settings in any country.”
Newman noted that HN51 (known as bird flu), foot and mouth disease, and H1N1 (known as swine flu) originated in animal agriculture. She also highlighted the risk of climate change, excessive animal consumption, and habitat destruction, which drive wild animals into urban areas.
“The simplest and perhaps strongest defense we have against [animal-borne disease] is reducing our reliance on animals as food sources,” said Newman. “Not only will it give our planet a chance to replenish its environment and natural resources, but it will protect human and animal populations from future outbreaks, which could rival or even surpass COVID-19 in their severity.”
‘No Meat May’
The No Meat May campaign challenges people to cut meat from their diets for 31 days. The campaign encourages people to ditch meat for their health, the environment, for the animals, and to promote a more sustainable food system.
This year, more than 33,000 people have signed up for the campaign. In a campaign survey of 2,500 participants, 38 percent said they chose to give up meat over concerns about meat’s link to zoonotic diseases.
The survey also revealed that personal health was the primary motivator for people choosing to go meat-free. Seventy-nine percent of the participants said they were ditching meat to reduce their risk of chronic diseases.
Factory Farms and Antibiotic Resistance
In addition to zoonotic diseases, Dr. Newman says the heavy amount of antibiotics used to treat sick animals on factory farms could also lead to more deaths. A 2019 UN report reveals ten million people may die by 2050 due to antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is becoming more prevalent in factory-farmed animals. This is causing them to become sources of deadly bacteria like MRSA, E. coli, and Salmonella—infections that can be passed on to humans. They endanger human health when even “last-resort” antibiotics become ineffective in killing the infection.
Dr. Newman said: “limiting the meat we put in our supermarket trolley and shifting to a more plant-based diet will help us move towards a safer future. Signing up to the No Meat May campaign is a lovely way to feel supported in reducing meat consumption moving forwards.”