Original Article: SCMP

The latest coronavirus outbreak is giving me a dreadful feeling of déjà vu. Seventeen years ago, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome first made headlines, I locked myself in a cage in Hong Kong to illustrate the way our taste for animal flesh contributed to animal-borne diseases.
That same year, I wore a hazmat suit to the Asean Plus Three summit in Bali, Indonesia, where officials were discussing ways to prevent killer diseases. I explained that the most effective way to stop the spread of animal-borne viruses like the ones that cause Sars, avian flu and swine flu was to stop eating animals.

All in all, I’ve spent more than two decades warning people that it’s unhealthy – and downright dangerous – to raise animals for food.
Seeing people get sick and die from the latest coronavirus has only strengthened my resolve to persuade everyone to stop eating animals. We need to learn from past pandemics and go vegan, before wearing face masks becomes as commonplace as wearing clothes.

According to the United Nations, 70 per cent of new human diseases originate in animals and most of those are directly linked to animals used for food. Meat markets, factory farms, and slaughterhouses provide the perfect breeding ground for coronaviruses and other potentially devastating pathogens.

The high demand for animal-based foods means that animals must be mass-produced in crowded, faeces-ridden farms and slaughtered on killing floors that are contaminated with blood, vomit and other bodily fluids. Pathogens flourish in such conditions. And when an outbreak does occur, the animals, who have already suffered so much, are slaughtered en masse in horrific ways.

It’s not unusual for animal-borne pathogens to mutate and sicken humans. While precautions such as quarantining at-risk individuals and practising good hygiene may help stop the spread of Covid-19 and other deadly diseases, we need to take one more significant step to prevent future epidemics of animal-borne diseases in the first place: stop raising animals for food.

It’s bad enough that the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods contributes to heart disease and cancer and that harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E coli found in the intestines and faeces of warm-blooded animals, often lead to food-poisoning outbreaks. Do we really want to add potentially deadly animal-borne viruses to the mix?