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FACT CHECK: Is COVID-19 caused by human consumption of animals? YES.

Animals are potential reservoir of communicable zoonotic viruses. 'Consuming less animal products may help', said Dr. Farzadegan, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.

MATTHEW BROWN: On March 15, vegan influencer Ed Winters, who often goes by the name “Earthling Ed” on social media, posted a graphic to his Instagram account stating that “COVID-19 was caused by eating animals.” “The new coronavirus pandemic would not have started if we didn’t farm and eat animals,” Winters wrote. The post lists several other diseases that reached epidemic and pandemic levels, and it asserts that “the one thing they all have in common is that they started because of our exploitation of #animals.” The graphic on the post concludes that “COVID-19 would not exist if the world was vegan. Your personal choice to eat animals impacts every living being on this planet”…

When USA TODAY reached to Winters for comment, he provided further context and detail to his claim. “Of course, many zoonotic diseases are unrelated to our exploitation of animals, and being vegan wouldn’t completely eliminate all of them, (Zika virus) being a prime example.” Winters, however, provided a study co-written by the World Health Organization that found some behaviors associated with eating meat can be risk factors in the rise of new diseases. Winters also connected the prevalence of diseases like HIV, Ebola and Nipah virus to eating bushmeat. He also cited the rising threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the World Health Organization has linked to overuse of antibiotics in the production of animal products.

Winters also told USA TODAY: “Again, not all zoonotic diseases are created because we exploit animals, however it is undeniable that the exploitation of animals creates environments where the likelihood of spillovers occurring is significantly increased, and if we weren’t using animals for food we wouldn’t have created situations where many of these diseases, including the latest coronavirus, were passed to humans”… Most of the diseases cited in the graphic arose in conditions where animals were being hunted or raised for human consumption. There have been documented epidemics caused by strains of avian and swine flus for the past century…

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, likely began in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China. Early research suggests the virus originated in bats and was transferred by a yet unknown intermediary animal to people. A possible animal that could’ve acted as a middleman is the pangolin (also called a scaly anteater), which is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries and illegally traded for its meat and scales. Wet markets are places where people can buy a variety of live animals for consumption. Many different species can be found stacked on top of one another in such environments, which are conducive to cross-species disease transfer.

“There are handful of food-borne parasitic diseases that one can only get from eating undercooked or raw pork so if you stopped eating pork altogether, you’d never need worry about any of those,” said Dr. Stephen Felt, a professor of comparative medicine at Stanford University Medical Center… “Consuming less animal products may help,” said Dr. Homayoon Farzadegan, a professor who teaches epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. “But just living in close proximity with animals that are the potential reservoir of zoonotic viruses may lead to new transmissions”…

Similarly, it is difficult to determine how many zoonotic diseases would arise in a world where humans didn’t eat meat. Yet even with the preventative measures in the American food system, like feeding livestock antibiotics and pathogen-reducing treatments like the chlorine washing of meat, the proximity to animals still allows for the possibility that diseases might be transferred through direct human-animal contact. Reducing human contact with animals, however, is likely the most effective way to lower the risk of transferring pandemic-causing viruses and bacteria to humans from animal populations.  SOURCE…


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