Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as a three-part series in India Currents…
“My dream in 1987 was that I will not let the Monsantos have a monopoly over the seed. They cannot pretend they invented the seed, they cannot pretend it’s a machine that they put in place. This illusion is too much of an abuse against the creativity and creation of the earth. I decided to protect the seed because I didn’t accept it being in the hands of a few people just for profit and monopoly. I could not accept the untruth of the seed being patented. For me, saving seeds and exchanging seeds is maintaining the continuity of cycles of life in farming, in nature, and in society,” says environmental activist, author, and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva, explaining her life’s work.
Dr. Shiva continues: “Monsanto and Bayer have a long history. They made explosives and lethally poisonous gases using shared technologies and sold them to both sides in the two world wars…Industrial agriculture is nothing else but a subsidy to the continuation of the war that started in Hitler’s concentration camps. And in the process we have destroyed the land, destroyed biodiversity, destroyed insects, butterflies, pollinators, and we have destroyed the farmers.” She comments that it’s not going to work to have “the whole world declare a war on a little virus, because humans have lost every war against microbes. They turn out to be so much smarter…The garden is going to be our savior in the time of artificial intelligence.”
A virus that has locked down the world and robbed the livelihoods of millions for over a year now has a message for humanity, if only we could pay attention to it: We are just the tip of biology on this earth. The pandemic is not a natural disaster, but a human-caused disaster. Our planet will continue to evolve—even without us—if we do not respect the rights of other species or our fellow human beings.
“It was a bad day for viruses,” Moderna’s chair Noubar Afeyan says about the day when he got the first word of his company’s clinical trial results. “We may never have a pandemic again.”
As tempting as it is to believe, I find it more realistic to go with the thesis of Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How to Survive a Pandemic. “When I was growing up, there was no such thing as HIV/AIDS. Where did this virus come from?,” he asks in the preface of this book. The current coronavirus pandemic may just be a dress rehearsal for the coming plague. We are heading toward a much deadlier pandemic—a hundred times worse than COVID-19—which would threaten our civilization, he argues.
As he delves into tracing the roots of many pandemics to industrialized animal agriculture, he also mourns the loss of more than half of the Earth’s tropical forests that have been cleared due to the expanding livestock production. This “hamburgerization” of the rainforests has set the stage for disease emergence and transmission in many ways. As the rainforests of Africa were destroyed for logging operations, gorillas and chimpanzees were shot and sold as food. Tracing the roots of HIV to bushmeat, he writes: “Someone butchered a chimp a few decades ago and now thirty million people are dead.” Human outbreaks of Ebola have been traced to exposure to the dead bodies of infected great apes hunted for food.
“Increasing consumer demand for animal products worldwide over the past few decades has led to a global explosion in massive animal agriculture operations which have come to play a key role in the Third Age of emerging human disease,” Dr. Greger observes. His details on factory farming practices are eye-opening for meat consumers: “The stress associated with the routine mutilations farm animals are subjected to without anesthesia—including castration, branding, dehorning, detoeing, teeth clipping, beak trimming, and tail docking—coupled with the metabolic demands of intensive production, such as artificially augmented reproduction, lactation, early weaning, and accelerated growth rates, leave animals extremely prone to disease.”
Dr. Greger also lays out the environmental impact of factory farms throughout this book. He cites Robert F. Kennedy Jr. describing North Carolina’s hog farms: “Below, aluminum culverts collect and channel their putrefying waste into 10-acre, open-air pits three stories deep from which miasmal vapors choke surrounding communities and tens of millions of gallons of hog feces ooze into North Carolina’s rivers.”
What about Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks in alfalfa sprouts and greens? The bacteria from chicken and cattle manure get onto sprouts as the level of infection in animal feces has risen with intensification of factory farming.
“There is shit in the meat,” says Eric Schlosser, in his book Fast Food Nation. Writing about the processing of chickens at factory farms in her book Spoiled, author Nicols Fox says that the “final product is no different than if you stuck it in the toilet and ate it.” As he narrates the filthy conditions at factory farms, Dr. Greger argues that it is easier to blame practices that may be culturally foreign, such as wet markets and bushmeat, than it is to look at our own plates in the mirror. For example, the first hybrid swine flu virus was discovered in North America. “With massive concentrations of farm animals within whom to mutate, these new swine flu viruses in North America seem to be on an evolutionary fast track, jumping and reassorting between species at an unprecedented rate.”
In a gut-wrenching account of the abuse of animals, Dr. Greger writes: “A hen needs 291 square inches of space to flap her wings, 197 square inches to turn around, and 72 square inches just to stand freely. U.S. commercial battery facilities typically allow each bird an average of 64 square inches. Laying hen warehouses can average more than a hundred thousand chickens per shed.” According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a single gram of manure from an infected chicken can contain “enough virus to infect 1 million birds.”
These animals are bred to be sick. In the 1950s, the industry could raise a five-pound chicken in less than three months. This now takes an average of forty-five days. “Broilers” with faster growth rate are under physiological and immunological stress that makes them more sensitive to infectious diseases. Dr. Greger notes that H5N1 ought to have been the wake-up call to industry breeders that myopic breeding schemes prioritizing growth over health concerns threaten the continued viability of their industry. Unfortunately, “the message does not seem to have gotten through.”
COVID-19 is not the only pandemic we have had, Dr. Greger points out: “Bird flu viruses have been detected every year in the U.S. since the mid-1960s. In just the last five years, the United States has suffered more than two hundred outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses, including H5N1, H5N8, H7N8, and H7H9, resulting in the deaths of more than fifty million chickens and turkeys.” He explains that by adapting to chickens, bird flu viruses hit an evolutionary jackpot—and, by adapting to chickens, the viruses may be adapting to the human race—another multibillion-host bonanza for the viruses.
Dr. Greger also reports the meat industry’s efforts to cover up the information on disease outbreaks over the decades. The industry’s attempts at poultry vaccinations have led to viral mutations and vaccine-resistant strains. He quotes industry insiders who admit that truly informed consumers are the last thing they need: “If most urban meat-eaters were to visit an industrial broiler house, to see how the birds are raised, and could see the birds being “harvested” and then being “processed”….some, perhaps many of them, would swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat.” His book contains many stories of outbreaks in factory farms from New Jersey to Oklahoma as well as of the cover-ups by corporate producers and veterinarians.
Considering the role of funding for the meat industry, Dr. Greger mentions that the World Bank, which has funded large-scale livestock projects in developing nations, has acknowledged that there is “a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security are threatened” with large factory farms. While production profitability has been the sole consideration, critics have argued that human and animal health and welfare, soil health, biodiversity, climate change, social justice, equity, good governance, and environmental stewardship have been completely ignored.
In painstaking details throughout his book, Dr. Greger explains that reckless animal agriculture practices have given rise to endless diseases caused by humans. The root causes behind the Third Age of human disease are “anthropogenic,” meaning human-caused. “As climate changes and ecosystems are destroyed, pathogens will become ubiquitous, constantly mixing and mutating to find new animal hosts and new avenues of infection.”
Referring to pandemic influenza, Nobel Prize winner scientist Joshua Lederberg said: “Some people think I am being hysterical, but there are catastrophes ahead. We live in evolutionary competition with microbes—bacteria and viruses. There is no guarantee that we will be the survivors.”
Is it possible to prevent future pandemics?: “As hard as it is to imagine a virus more ominous than H5N1, intensive poultry production on a global scale is a relatively new phenomenon. As poultry consumption continues to soar in the developing world, there is no biological reason that bird flu could not evolve and mutate into an even deadlier niche…Even if H5N1 never developed the capacity to go pandemic, it may only be a matter of time before the new poultry factories of the world breed the deadliest of combinations,” Dr. Greger explains. He offers a moratorium on factory farms as one of the solutions: “If the development of animal agriculture marked the “start of the era of zoonosis,” then the scaling back of animal agricultural production may hasten its end.”
“We may be one bushmeat meal away from the next HIV, one pangolin plate away from the next killer coronavirus, and one factory farm away from the next deadly flu…Tragically, it may take a pandemic with a virus like H5N1 or H7N9 before the world realizes the true cost of cheap chicken,” Dr. Greger declares as he concludes his remarkable book.
In an interview with Senator Cory Booker—who has unveiled a bill to reform the farm system—food revolutionist and author John Robbins says that 80% of the antibiotics that are used in the U.S. for all purposes aren’t used as medicines to treat bacterial infections in human beings, which is the rightful use, but they are used as feed-additives in factory farms and in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). If this continues, we are heading into superbugs when no antibiotic will work on human infections. Senator Booker says that his bill is a “real leverage point to look at our food systems in America, and to take steps to correct this injustice” where 90% of our agriculture subsidies using taxpayer money is going into four monocrops. “A significant amount goes to feeding livestock…and the rest of it goes to things that make us sicker, like corn syrup. That’s why my kids in Newark can find a Twinkie product cheaper than an apple…We have a savagely broken food system; these powerful interests protect it, and this is not for the small, independent family farmer. This is for the big multinational corporations who get billions of dollars because of our subsidies.” As someone who believes that change can start with a single person, Senator Booker quotes an old saying that change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington. He calls on citizens to double down on their activism and find ways to demand a change by working with local legislators, house members, and senators on these issues.
As for Dr. Shiva, she took the inspiration from Gandhi’s spinning wheel—which was against the Satanic mills of England that had colonized the world and created slavery—and started saving seeds to fight American agrochemical company Monsanto’s tyrannical control of seeds, and has since worked tirelessly with small farmers. Her organization, Navdanya, has built 150 community seed banks in different parts of India. Navdanya means “nine seeds” (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the “new gift” (for seeds as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds.) “Whenever a farmer has a seed, they are not in debt. Because it is the seeds bred for chemicals or genetically engineered seeds that need chemicals that get farmers into debt, for seed and for chemicals. That’s the primary reason for about 70% of the debt.”
“First they said without chemicals you can’t grow food. Then they said without GMOs you can’t grow food. And now they are saying that without digital agriculture you can’t grow food…The Corona crisis is forcing humanity to shake the myth of certainty and predictability. The entire mechanistic industrial ideal which assumes total control, total prediction, and has got us in this mess, assumes separation, (assumes) that we are not part of nature and we are masters.” Dr. Shiva proclaims that uncertainty and non-separation from nature is the way the world is woven.
Dr. Vandana Shiva argues that the World Bank pushed the privatization of seeds in India in 1991, introducing a very distorted model of agriculture. It created refugees out of Indian farmers who moved to the cities, became today’s migrant labor, and are now refugees from the cities because of the Corona crisis. With the pandemic and sudden lockdown, the livelihood of half of India just evaporated. This India that works for its bread also suddenly added to the ranks of the hungry. Before the pandemic, nearly one million children under five were dying of hunger annually, and there were 190 million hungry people already. COVID added many more millions. The farmers who went the World Bank way to grow cash crops—which is the reform way of all national governments—were unable to sell when all the long distance supply chains collapsed due to COVID.
“We were always told that industrial food is cheap and is feeding the world. So I started to do full cost accounting and found that there are trillions and trillions of dollars of shadow in environmental destruction, biodiversity destruction, destruction of farmers, and destruction of our health. When we add all that together, we will realize that we could not afford industrial food pushed by the old Poison Cartel and Big Oil,” Dr. Shiva explains. She gives an example of biofuel—which is made to look very efficient—and big government subsidies to divert food to biofuel. But, it takes more fossil fuel to produce biofuel than it substitutes. “We measure nutrition per acre, we measure health per care, and our work with real farmers and true cost accounting is showing that small farms with biodiversity, without chemicals, can feed two times the Indian population…They take pride in feeding 1.3 billion. I can tell you the U.S. model can’t feed 1.3 billion.”
Defending the world’s largest protests by farmers in India against the new agricultural laws that would allow private corporations to buy directly from farmers—which would leave them at the mercy of buyers—Dr. Shiva observes that in the globalized system of monopolistic buying, the original farmer gets as little as 0.5 to 5%. Global corporations break national boundaries, they break national sovereignty, and Indian farmers are fighting for food sovereignty. She adds that in spite of the global powers wanting to grab the land, and turn India into a large farm desert like the midwest of the U.S., the small farmers are fighting because of their love for Mother Earth.
John Robbins says that livestock provides just 18% of calories but takes up more than 80% of farmland. “Right now, 81% of the world’s agricultural land is used to provide meat, eggs, and dairy products. That’s an astounding amount of land on planet Earth. But, plant foods, on the other hand, require far less land and far fewer resources, and can actually help sequester the carbon in the soil. We could feed the entire world’s population, and free up so much land that could be used to grow more food for future generations…The scientific consensus is very clear that industrial meat production is responsible for a major portion of all our greenhouse emissions.” Elaborating on the findings of Oxford Martin School researchers, he says that a global switch to plant-based diets could save up to 8 million lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds.
When Amazon rainforests were burning, French president Emanuel Macron wrote that the lungs which produce 20% oxygen for the planet were burning. According to TIME, in 2018, Brazil exported some $6 billion worth of beef, more than any other country in history. In Brazil, cattle accounts for 80% of deforested land. Why are Brazilians cutting down their forests? To make quick money by trying to meet an increasing demand for beef around the world. Not to mention that it requires more than 660 gallons of water just to produce a single quarter pound of hamburger!
There are many doctors who have been shouting out loud, along with Dr. Michael Greger, that there is no human nutritional need for any animal protein. In fact, according to the Harvard University School of Medicine, the healthiest sources of protein are “beans, nuts, grains and other vegetable sources of protein.” One reason India was not considered a high-risk area for novel influenza strains is because a large portion of the population is vegetarian. But, over the past 25 years, India’s diet has changed. The middle classes of India have been pushed into admiring junk foods, taking pride in flocking for meat at McDonald’s and KFCs; and urban populations consider a Coke-and-Pepsi-diet a declaration of being progressive. So, India is now the capital of diabetes in the world. The risks from COVID escalate multifold with any chronic disease, including diabetes.
Social psychologist Melanie Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, offers an absorbing look at what she calls carnism, the belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals when we would never dream of eating others. Dr. Joy says that eating animals without thinking about it makes this behavior invisible. She calls this invisible belief system “carnism”. There are Three Ns of justification—Dr. Joy argues—that consuming meat is normal, natural, and necessary. She explains that “the belief that eating meat is necessary makes the system seem inevitable—if we cannot exist without meat, then abolishing carnism is akin to suicide.” This myth of necessity has been promoted by the meat industry despite widespread and substantial evidence to the contrary. She discusses many ways our system has made eating animals acceptable: Objectification, viewing animals as things rather than living, breathing, feeling beings. Deindividualization, looking at animals as a group or a species rather than individuals with their own personalities and preferences. Dichotomization, categorizing animals into edible or inedible, so that we can eat our steak while we pet our dog.
Multi-disciplinary Dr. Zach Bush proclaims that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction on the planet and humanity is one of the countless species headed for extinction. In 2019, Dr. Bush correctly predicted that Hubei, China would be the center of a pandemic due to its high levels of air pollution combined with the pollution from large factory farms. “Animals around the world are largely being held in captivity, in extremely toxic and inhumane conditions. And so if we see viruses coming out of that, that’s the microbiome’s check on the reality that we live in. There are checks and balances in biology, certainly, that work better than the checks and balances in our government,” Dr. Bush comments.
One molecule in our food and water system called glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—is causing huge endocrine disruption in our bodies and poisoning our environment. It poisons our genome and blocks the ability to make glutathione, which is our main antioxidant. Dr. Bush says that by using antimicrobials like glyphosate, which act like an antibiotic for the earth, we have been destroying our soil and depleting nutrients from our food. Glyphosate is only one of thousands of chemicals in our food system. It is at over 9 billion kilograms of consumption worldwide and unfortunately it’s a water soluble toxin. “A water soluble toxin is a bad idea on a planet that is 70% water not just by surface area, but for the air we breathe, for the clouds that rain it down upon us, for the plants that grow within that soil, and for the bodies that live off of those plants.”
Our staple superfoods are contaminated because of the farming practices using so much glyphosate, and our foods are making us sick. Also, the third largest crop we grow in the U.S., right behind corn and soybean, is our neighborhood lawns and it extends to our playing fields and golf courses sprayed with Roundup.
Glyphosate is destroying not just the proteins for human life but also for the bacterial life. It functions as a potent antibiotic, kills life in the soil and also kills life in the gut. So when we are eating, drinking, and breathing Roundup, we are destroying our gut microbiome which determines our health. Simply put, when you harm the gut, you are harming the human. As a result, we are experiencing an extinction of diversity of microbes within our gut, that parallels the extinction that is gripping the planet.
Dr. Bush, who has devoted his time to soil science and regenerative agriculture, has been educating farmers on the dangers of chemical farming, making them aware that they are facing the highest levels of chronic disease in the world. He speaks of the last 90 miles of the Mississippi river that collects about 80% of the Roundup in our environment and is now cancer alleys.
“If you look at the graph of the growth of GMOs, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence. And you could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s…Monoculture farms and monoculture factory farms become hotbeds of disease,” comments Dr. Shiva, on the harm caused by this Bayer-Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with GMO crops.
Dr. Bush explains that with every introduction of glyphosate starting with its debut in 1976, spraying of wheat starting in 1992, and the Roundup Ready GMO crops in 1996, there has been an uptick in chronic and autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and neurologic degenerative conditions. Glyphosate was originally used as an industrial pipe cleaner as it would leach out heavy metal buildup in older pipes. Millions of acres of U.S. farmland are now covered with glyphosate-resistant superweeds.
Bayer, a German company, cleverly got the GMO approval for LibertyLink a year before they bought Monsanto. They are happy to pay billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements as they very slowly phase out glyphosate while the court systems slog along, sweeping in as a savior with their jackpot LibertyLink. LibertyLink is another GMO approved by the E.U., the U.S., and Canada. Instead of disrupting the glycine amino acid pathway which glyphosate does, LibertyLink crops—genetically modified to handle spraying of a chemical called glufosinate—disrupt amino acids that are critical for human reproduction. LibertyLink, unfortunately, is already growing throughout the whole midwest. “The sperm counts in all Western countries have dropped by 52-57% over the last few decades, and we are now seeing one in three males with a sperm count at infertility level. One in four women is struggling with infertility. We are losing the capacity to procreate, we are losing the capacity for human life. We are failing as a biological species because of the collapse of biology beneath our feet, beneath our gut, beneath the soils that dwell around us,” Dr. Bush observes.
Talking about the “victory gardens” in World War II that provided some 40 percent of all produce consumed in the U.S., Dr. Bush remarks: “We stopped growing food in the United States. If you think we have a serious crisis in our hospitals now, wait till our food system is disrupted…Our supply chains are tenuous…Kansas—our most agricultural state in the U.S. where 90% of the acreage is agriculturally managed—imports 90% of their food as a state and one in four children is going hungry in Kansas for lack of calories today.” He laments the dramatic increase in chronic diseases we have seen so far, and notes how our children are aging fast, developing the diseases that we used to see in geriatrics.
Dr. Bush predicts that if we just look forward to 16 years—four more American presidents—we will hit autism for one in three children, and adults with about 75% cancer rates. “Our food system is 1.2 trillion dollars a year, our medical system is 3.7 trillion dollars a year. We are three times outspending our food with just the cost of chronic disease care. We have a completely unsustainable model for agriculture and disease care in the U.S. which is going to drive us bankrupt as a nation…The farmer and the physician have been trained by the same chemical companies and so we have been indoctrinated into the same pharmaceutical codependence and worldview, whether we be a farmer or a physician.”
Discussing his work with his non-profit Farmer’s Footprint, he remarks: “My greatest hope is for this third generation of Roundup children. Let’s reverse out of that epigenetic doom that we have set for them. Let them find a pathway into a new epigenetic hope through their reconnection to real food, through a really healthy soil and water ecosystem.”
Russia is first among the developed nations to say that they are going to be glyphosate-free by 2025. Mexico will gradually phase out glyphosate by the end of 2024. Bermuda, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and France are among many other countries which have either banned or are working toward banning glyphosate. Why are we driving our soil to extinction? Why can’t we pledge to be a glyphosate-free and glufosinate-free nation? Why does our government pass legislation that makes it illegal for the Environmental Protection Agency to consider generational toxicity data?
We live in an environment where pig stool is considered such a biohazard that it’s illegal to transport it across state lines. “Imagine billions of gallons of pig stool outside of Smithfield, North Carolina, or ten times more in Hubei province. We have these massive pig stool lakes, every teaspoon of which has millions of microorganisms that are all under severe stress from glyphosate and everything else, and they are cranking out viruses at an astounding rate,” Dr. Zach Bush notes.
As he untangles the workings of the virus, Dr. Bush points out that we break down our innate immune system through the mechanisms of soil, water, and air. While 75% of air samples in the U.S. are contaminated with glyphosate, the wildfires in Australia and California in 2020 also released an enormous amount of PM 2.5 in our environment. “Sars-COV2 + influenza viruses bind to PM2.5, and when humans experience long-term exposure to this air pollution, it lowers the innate resistance to viral infection,” he explains.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention always sends out toxicologists along with infectious disease scientists to a new pandemic site. It’s been long recognized by the CDC that the environment is a critical piece of the pandemic, but they only publish the findings around the virus, not around the toxicity in the environment.”
Setting the narrative of the pandemic right, Dr. Bush observes that rather than focusing on living in harmony with nature, we have created a perturbation in nature and our relationship to nature is expressing itself in a pandemic. He also asserts that our reductionist belief system that pharmacy is going to fix everything is keeping the vast majority of our country’s population sick and disease-ridden.
“The human body isn’t as delicate as we are led to believe—we are actually quite resilient. We don’t live in a world where we are under constant attack by nature. It’s really the other way around: The destruction of nature by humankind has ultimately altered our biology to a point where we have had to maladapt to our self-created toxic environment. The human species has become a parasite of planet Earth. We are the disease.” Dr. Bush makes an urgent plea for cleaning up our soil, water and air to prevent future pandemics and affirms that the healthcare system will right itself as soon as we fix the food system.
A nationwide study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health corroborates Dr. Bush’s observation on the known connections between PM2.5 exposure and higher risk of death from COVID-19 and other cardiovascular and respiratory ailments. The study states that an increase of only 1 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 death rate. The researchers wrote: “The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”
With the pandemic rampant last year, a TIME article questioned: “As the coronavirus has spread through America’s meatpacking plants amid growing recognition that overcrowded factory farms are risk factors for other diseases, some people have wondered whether we’ve reached a tipping point. Might Americans finally be ready to go easy on their beloved hot dogs and steaks?” The answer is: “Simply put, no.” The article quotes Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America: “They (the producers) want them to imagine there’s no backstory, and for the vast majority of people, I think that is still the case.”
As if oceans belong on our planet to supply “seafood”, fish are readily offered when servers are asked for meat-free options in restaurants. If animal agriculture has ravaged our environment, industrial fishing has been equally devastating for the earth, polluting our oceans and waterways. According to National Geographic, “more than 55 percent of ocean surface is covered by industrial fishing…That’s more than four times the area covered by agriculture.”
As the loss of ocean biodiversity accelerates, it’s predicted that in 30 years there will be little or no salt-water fish. “Biodiversity is a finite resource, and we are going to end up with nothing left … if nothing changes,” says Professor Boris Worm, a marine ecologist.
Supermarket fish come from commercial fishing or aqua farming. Both have devastated our ecosystems. Industrial fishing deploys massive ships—supertrawlers—which remain out at sea for weeks and months at a time. These ships require large amounts of CO2-producing fuel. They catch hundreds of tons of fish every single day, because they can process or freeze on the ship itself. “The fishing nets scrape up fish—and anything else in their path—wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems and ocean habitats. The United Nations estimates that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling.”
When hauled out of the water, surviving fish undergo excruciatingly painful decompression that causes severe bladder, eyes, and stomach damage. Fishing lines catch and kill unintended species such as different fish, sea birds, turtles, and whales. These animals are considered “bycatch” and thrown overboard.
Aquaculture farming raises fish in the same unnatural, enclosed conditions as the factory farmed livestock, and produces enormous waste. They are also fed high quantities of antibiotics and have alarming levels of harmful chemicals. Also, it takes up to five pounds of smaller wild fish from the ocean to produce just one pound of fish meat from salmon or bass, two of the most common fish being raised on factory farms.
“You can’t be an environmentalist, you can’t be an ocean steward, without truly walking the walk. And you can’t walk the walk in the world of the future—the world ahead of us, the world of our children—without eating a plant-based diet,” says James Cameron, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker and environmentalist.
Dr. Jyotsna Puri, Director of the Environment, Climate, Nutrition, Gender and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, finds it arrogant to make life and death decisions on the basis of benefits for humans. “This is ironic since humans have defined a completely new geologic period called the Anthropocene, defined mainly because of the disasters we have wreaked! THAT should have been a wake up moment for us. But it hasn’t been. The anthropocentric view of life will have to change. Every policy is subservient to the demands of Homo sapiens. We have to change the way we function if we want to stave off the next pandemic.”
Dr. Puri argues that people change behavior when you set up the incentives and the infrastructure to make change possible. She recommends creating a common global standardised measure to know a corporate’s or government impact on the environment and on our climate.
“Monoculture of the mind—as I have called it—is the inability to see how ecosystems work, the inability to see how diversity is vital…Without biodiversity we will have no health,” Dr. Vandana Shiva points out. Championing small farmers who provide 80% of the food we eat globally, she notes that if the small farmers are no more, India is not India. Along with many scientists and researchers around the world, she asserts that GMO crops have brought more pesticide use and created new pests: “Genetic engineering is nothing more than genetic reductionism based on a very false assumption of genetic determinism.”
“These chemical companies cause a disaster, and then from the impacts of that disaster, they create a new market, and make a bigger disaster, and they create a new market. So, every cost borne by the environment and by humans becomes a new market of opportunity for the same people who cause that problem. Right now, the health damages caused by the chemicals and GMOs in our food is becoming the biggest market for a combination of Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Tech, and Big Money. It’s one big cancerous slop on this planet.” Dr. Shiva refuses to be subjugated to “digital agriculture and the financialization of nature.”
One of her books, Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, discusses the new imperialism of food brought on by the likes of Bill Gates, who has been pushing monoculture GMO crops around the world. She mourns that “the digital farming without farmers that he is pushing so hard and so violently is the reason that farmers’ protests in India are being ignored.”
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offers a plea that we embrace GMOs in agriculture, saying that “avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science, it’s immoral.” The ecological and health safety of GMOs has been questioned by research across the world that has busted these two assumptions: 1) That GMOs are indeed safe, and 2) that GMOs and industrial agriculture allow higher yields. GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods has hundreds of citations of peer-reviewed articles that cannot be rejected. Since the GMOs are proprietary, and since most university agronomy departments receive massive funding from agritech companies, when a study does document harm, its authors are subjected to career-ending attacks.
In spite of trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, lives, and immeasurable hours of learning lost for school children, isn’t it staggering to know that no public health agency has declared that we will be in pandemic after pandemic so long as the world is so hungry for meat? Isn’t it criminal that the CDC, the USDA, our politicians or public health officials never talk about closing the overcrowded and filthy factory farms?
Yes, sadly, there are places in this world where people are so desperately hungry and live in such dire conditions that they will consume whatever they could lay their hands on. That’s not the case with most people in developed countries where there is an abundant supply of other foods. In fact, 30% of all food produced globally is wasted, and in the United States alone, we waste upwards of 40% of our food.
When I hear that “We are all in this together,” or, “we all need to sacrifice and practice our shared commitment to take individual responsibility and civic accountability,” I want to cry out: “No, vegans and vegetarians have not brought this pandemic upon humanity!” Yet, it is those who perform their civic duty toward their fellow humans and toward this planet—by choosing what they put on their plate for each meal—who are also being forced to sacrifice by locking themselves down and keeping their children from attending schools. Why are meat-eaters commanding sacrifice from vegans and vegetarians?
Officials across the E.U. as well as in the U.S. have called upon citizens’ sense of duty and empathy, promoting messages of unity and communal sacrifice. But, nobody is asking: “Sacrifice for whom and for what?” Do we sacrifice for those who want these factory farms to keep butchering and producing meat for their dinner plates? Do we sacrifice for those feeling complacent driving their Teslas and flaunting biodegradable disposables, priding themselves that they are doing a huge favor to Earth—while completely ignoring that the most powerful choice one could make for the well-being of our planet begins with our food?
Do we sacrifice so that billions of taxpayer dollars continue to subsidize the factory farms and vaccines, while the Food and Drug Administration lets multibillion dollar industries sell ultra-processed foods that keep our population sick and dependent on pharmaceuticals for lifetime? While we fulfill our moral obligations, why do our government officials remain oblivious to the moral imperative to close down factory farms and ban toxic chemicals from our foods and water?
Do we sacrifice for the politicians and public health officials to order lockdowns while we never hear our government talk about pulling out the junk foods, sodas, alcohol, vaping products, cigarettes, most disposable plastics, guns and GMO foods from our stores? Do we sacrifice for our government to subsidize Roundup Ready and LibertyLink crops which deplete our foods and hence our bodies of all the vital nutrients? Why is there no discussion from our public health agencies about nutrition and lifestyle, guiding us on disease prevention?
Why do 60% of Americans live with chronic health conditions? Why are our politicians allowed to subsidize Big Ag that has only focused on herbicides, monocrops and GMOs, to produce crops that grow faster and bigger but depleted of protein, vitamins and minerals that the crops contained half a century ago? How do the WHO, governments and pharmaceuticals around the world get away with spending billions to invest in band-aids of vaccine after vaccine rather than address the root causes that bring about these pandemics?
Our students have been locked inside their homes because of the pandemic. Why does producing cheap meat have priority over the well-being and health of our future generation? Why should vegans and vegetarians bear the brunt of the irresponsibility and inhumanity of those who are not satisfied to consume the abundant plant foods that Mother Earth has to offer? Is the U.S. the only country that has foods and drugs under the same administration as in our FDA? Isn’t this counter-intuitive?
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, declares: “We need to be prepared for whatever COVID-24 is going to look like.” In that case, shouldn’t President Biden prioritize banning factory farms, glyphosate, and LibertyLink, in order to prepare the U.S. for future pandemic threats? Isn’t prevention always better than cure?
Isn’t it a global problem that 60 billion animals are brutalized and killed every year for human consumption? As Dr. Shiva asks, are we going to have a world view of regeneration—with our role in regeneration—or a world view of conquest and war?
Thanksgiving has always been a difficult time for me, even more so last year with COVID-19 raging. Saying “Happy Thanksgiving” to anyone was harder than ever—it seemed more appropriate to mourn not only the Native Americans who lost their lives and land, and the millions of intelligent but helpless, butchered and broiled turkeys, but also the staggering losses due to a pandemic. What’s “happy,” after all, about this holiday knowing that every year humans butcher millions of animals in the name of celebrations? Knowing that factory farms keep turkeys captive in filthy, merciless conditions? And knowing that science has shown again and again that factory farms and slaughterhouses are breeding grounds for pandemics with their cruel and irresponsible “processing” of animals?
Organizations like Food and Water Watch have been calling upon citizens to ask Congress to ban factory farms as they “place our public health and food supply at risk, pollute the environment and our drinking water, and wreck rural communities—while increasing corporate control over our food.”
Activist organizations like Environmental Working Group that question agricultural practices, use of toxic chemicals, and provide information on environmental and water quality issues are being drowned by the continuous onslaught of corporate greed, while those who choose not to eat meat feel powerless about their tax dollars going toward subsidizing butchering of animals and egregious agricultural practices that are destroying our ecology.
Mahatma Gandhi had said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Dr. Michael Greger writes: “As long as there is poultry, there will be pandemics. It may be us or them.”
Or, as ecologist Rachel Carlson put it succinctly nearly sixty years ago, “Nature fights back.”
In the afterward of Dr. Greger’s book, Dr. Kennedy Shortidge—who discovered H5N1—appeals: “We have reached a critical point. Today’s COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest in an increasingly harrowing viral storm threatening each of us. We must dramatically change the way we interact with animals for the sake of all animals.”
For those who reach for any kind of meat or seafood, I implore you to ask yourself: Am I bringing our planet one step closer to enormous suffering from yet another pandemic—and one step closer to extinction—with my choice?
Paulomi hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food—so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods—and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.