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The role of plant-based diets in battling pandemics

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The world as we know it has come to a standstill – due to a virus that has been transmitted to humans through the consumption of animals and rapidly spread around the world. The global impacts are dramatic: besides the tragic death toll and the large numbers of hospitalised patients pushing national health-care systems to the limit, we are faced with an immediate and large-scale shutdown of public life, services, production, trade, and travel, along with serious long-term effects such as massive job losses, unemployment, store closures, and widespread recessions, all of which will have a profound impact for many years to come. 

How eating animals increases the risk of future pandemics

Theoretically, a single interaction between a human and an infected animal could result in the emergence of a novel zoonotic disease (a disease which is transmitted from animals to humans) which could quickly turn into a  pandemic and result in a global lockdown. This makes eating animals an especially risky behaviour. And it makes ProVeg’s solution timely, sustainable, and particularly relevant since it addresses one of the root causes of the current crisis. 

Most of the infectious diseases that have emerged in the last decades were transmitted via animals.123 These include some forms of Influenza such as swine flu, which originated in pigs (the most well-known subtype H1N1 causing the spanish flu of 1918 and also the swine flu epidemic in 2009), and bird flu, which occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.4 So long as we continue to farm and eat animals, the risk of a global pandemic will continue to pose a heightened threat to human health and society.

A shift to plant-based eating can help reduce the risk of future pandemics

Plant-based foods reduce our dependence on animals as a source of protein. Transforming the global food system by replacing animal-based products with plant-based and cultured alternatives provides a solution to many of the factors that contribute to the rise of zoonotic pandemics. Reduced reliance on using animals as food protects natural habitats and biodiversity and thus reduces the chances of a novel zoonotic virus emerging.

“It is absolutely crucial that we shift towards plant-based eating in order to minimise the risks of future pandemics.”

Sebastian Joy, CEO ProVeg International

Can a plant-based diet help avoid contracting the corona virus?

While a plant-based diet can’t directly prevent an infection from a zoonotic disease, reducing the consumption of animal-based products can help prevent some of the degenerative diseases that put us at additional risk during a pandemic. Moreover, an increased shift towards plant-based eating will also reduce the numbers of farmed animals and hence the use of antibiotics and the related risk of multidrug resistance – which is not only a threat to global health in and of itself, but also exacerbates the intensity of a zoonotic pandemic.

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Support us in working with food producers, retailers, and caterers to develop more plant-based products for consumers and make them accessible to the widest possible market.

Could a similar zoonotic pandemic also result from eating farmed animals?

Both farmed animals and wild animals are potential hosts to a multitude of dangerous viruses which can jump from animals to humans. Indeed, as stated above, there have already been numerous examples of zoonotic diseases emerging from farmed animals. Additionally, the intensive use of antibiotics and other medication in factory farming also exacerbates the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses. 

Is banning wild animal food markets the solution?

Banning wild animal markets is certainly an important measure to minimise the spread of zoonotic diseases since storing, slaughtering, and processing many different species in extremely confined spaces provides a perfect breeding ground for zoonotic diseases. However, it is insufficient as an individual measure as it doesn’t take into account other factors such as the destruction of natural habitats, loss of biodiversity, and animal agriculture, all of which increase the risk of a pandemic. Moreover, keeping wild animals in large numbers also takes place for other purposes, such as fur production.

Health benefits of a plant-based diet

It is now widely accepted that a plant-based diet offers numerous health benefits compared with a diet based on animal products. Find out more here.

What can I do to protect myself?

Right now, you should focus on complying with the recommendations and rules set out by the authorities, as well as practicing social distancing, and following hygiene standards. To stay healthy, you should ensure a well-balanced, healthy diet

In the long run, you can also choose to reduce your consumption of animal-based products in order to reduce your risk of developing non-communicable lifestyle diseases such as coronary diseases or type-2 diabetes, which are additional risk factors in pandemic outbreaks. This will also go some way towards minimising the general strain on health care systems in the future, freeing up resources for vital pandemic emergency responses – which will also benefit you if you require medical care. And, of course, choosing plant-based proteins will reduce the overall risk of pandemics in the first place. 

What can I do to reduce the risk of future pandemics?

Besides replacing animal-based products with plant-based and – in the near future – cultured alternatives, you can also support ProVeg in our mission to effect systemic change in the global food system. Transforming the food system will go a long way towards addressing the root causes of most of today’s epidemics and pandemics. In addition, ProVeg is raising awareness around establishing plant-based eating as a risk-mitigation strategy for zoonotic diseases worldwide. By supporting ProVeg, you can become part of this solution. 

Help us create the change

Support Proveg in accelerating the innovative food and alternative protein sector – discover our variety of impactful activities such as the New Food Conference, the ProVeg Incubator, and Vegmed.

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References

  1. Belay, E. D., Kile, J. C., Hall, A. J.,et al. (2017): Zoonotic Disease Programs for Enhancing Global Health Security. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 23(13). DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2313.170544.
  2. FAO: Protecting people and animals from disease threats. Available at: http://www.fao.org/emergencies/crisis/diseases/en/ [18.03.2020]
  3. Smith, K. F., M. Goldberg, S. Rosenthal, L. Carlson, J. Chen, C. Chen, S. Ramachandran (2014): Global rise in human infectious disease outbreaks. Journal of The Royal Society Interface. 11(101): DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0950
  4. WHO (2018): Influenza (Avian and other zoonotic). Available at: https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(avian-and-other-zoonotic) [07.04.2020]

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