Showing posts with label health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label health. Show all posts

COVID-19 in 2020: Lessons Learned


A year ago, on 2019 New Year's Eve (NYE), China's health authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) that they had identified a cluster of cases of "pneumonia of an unknown cause" in the city of Wuhan. A year later, the streets of Wuhan were packed with crowds of people celebrating 2020 NYE, while billions around the world were left stranded inside their homes, in an attempt to curb the rapidly spreading SARS-CoV-2 virus that cause the COVID-19 disease. As 2020 comes to an end, we reflect on the lessons learned so far regarding this health pandemic.

2020 was an unprecedented year that saw the novel coronavirus spread from Wuhan, where it was originally detected, to reach each continent and corner of the globe, including Antarctica. According to Johns Hopkins University, by the end of the year, SARS-CoV-2 had infected 83 million people, and caused the deaths of 1.8 million individuals.[1] The USA, with a population of 332 million people, had the most infections and deaths, 20 million cases and 346,000 deaths. With less than five percent of the world's population, the USA had close to a quarter of the world's total number of coronavirus cases and deaths from COVID-19. The USA had more coronavirus cases than the next three countries combined (India, Brazil and Russia).

Compared to the USA, India with four times the population (1.3 billion), had half the number of cases and deaths, 10 million cases and 148,000 deaths. And, China, with even more people (1.4 billion), had even less cases and deaths, 87,000 cases and 4,600 deaths. The figures from the USA, India and China show that the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 has been unequal. Why is the USA figure so high, and what do these numbers tell us about this deadly virus?

Where Did SARS Originate?

Before we can start analyzing the unequal toll from the disease, it is important to consider some basic questions, and sum up the lessons learned so far. The first set of questions relate to the origin of the crisis - where did SARS-CoV-2 come from? Does the origin of SARS-CoV-2 have anything in common with the the SARS virus that appeared in 2002? What are the chances of a third severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus arising in the next decade? The constant mutation of SARS viruses are also troubling. In the final weeks of 2020, there was two significant SARS-CoV-2 mutations, the UK’s B.1.1.7 and South Africa’s 501.V2. Both are more infectious than their progenitors. If we understand what is causing SARS pathogens to materialize and mutate, then we can try to prevent future pandemics from this coronavirus.

Destruction of Nature

The UN and World Health Organization suggest that, in general, pandemics result from the destruction of nature. Environmental scientists also argue that less biodiversity will eventually lead to more disease. We know that the state of biodiversity is bad, but what can we do to turn things around? For one, destructive development projects are often subsidized by governments and international monetary organizations, so this form of socialized capitalism has to end. To preserve biodiversity, it is critical to restore and respect indigenous land rights. Also, an important economic lesson that business owners in urban areas should learn is that investing some of their profits in preserving nature, forests and ecosystems will enable them to remain in business in the long run. This is because protecting biodiversity can help to prevent future health pandemics and economic crises that can result in loss of market and business failure.

Are Animal Wet Markets to Blame?

In addition to the general cause of pandemics, it would be useful to know if there was a specific vector that caused SARS-CoV-2? Did this infectious virus originate in a food animal wet market or on a particular factory farm? The exact cause of transmission is yet unknown, but if food animal production is to blame, then reducing demand for animal products has to be part of the SARS solution. However, governments and banks are expending billions of dollars to subsidize factory farms and promote carnism as part of economic growth. This funding of future pandemics has to stop. Just like we have to de-fund fossil fuel companies to stop global warming, in order to decrease the chance of more SARS pandemics arising, funding agencies must recognize that industrial animal agriculture has to be curtailed.

Failure of Herd-immunity

One vital lesson of 2020 relates to the failure of an open economic policy and trying to develop natural immunity to a SARS virus in the general population. Sweden (pop. 10 million) followed a herd-immunity plan with little official restrictions. By the end of the year, this national approach resulted in 437K infections and 8,700 deaths from COVID-19. Sweden's neighbors had much lower COVID-19 death figures in 2020. For example, there were only 450 deaths in Norway, and 1,400 in Denmark. In comparison, Australia (pop. 25 million) with double the population of Sweden, implemented strong lockdown measures, like business and school closures and mandatory mask-wearing. By the end of the year, Australia's response resulted in far lower infections and fatalities, 28K cases and 900 deaths from COVID-19. Sweden's policy was irresponsible since it resulted in 15 times the number of SARS-CoV-2 cases and 10 times the number of COVID-19 fatalities as Australia. This shows that trying to achieve natural herd-immunity is a poor response to SARS viruses, with deadly consequences.

Strong Lockdowns Work

An important lesson learned in 2020 relates to the effectiveness of strong lockdown policies. To stop infections from getting out of control, it is important to immediately address the problem by shutting down the economy and halting the movement of people. Countries that had the most success in limiting the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections in 2020, like China (87K), Australia (28K), New Zealand (2,181) and Taiwan (812), did so with strong lockdown measures.[2] And, regions that had the least success in limiting the rise in SARS-CoV-2 cases by the end of the year, like Europe, North America and South American, implemented limited lockdown measures, with fewer business and school closures.

Another lesson learned from 2020, is that as SARS-CoV-2 spreads in a country, it becomes increasingly deadly. This is evident in the nationally reported figures on COVID-19 deaths. Although countrywide levels of testing and transparency vary, we can learn a lot by looking at COVID-19 fatalities per million people in 2020.[2] The number of deaths in the European Union (EU), US, Mexico and South America are far beyond the figures in Asian countries that have managed to limit the spread of the virus. Let's examine the numbers.

In Depth: European Union

Many Western European countries experienced an infection surge in the Spring, and implemented strong lockdown measures. Most states were fully reopened a few months later after flattening the SARS-CoV-2 curve. But, after the Summer lull, cases began to rise again with deadly consequences by the end of 2020. For example, France (pop. 67 million) had 2.6 million total SARS-CoV-2 infections and 988 deaths per million people from COVID-19. At one point during the Spring peak, France had around 975 deaths per day. But this number dropped during the Summer to as few as 8 deaths per day. At the end of the year, the fatality rate was back up, and above the Spring peak. The UK (pop. 66 million) had 2.7 million cases in total, and a fatality rate of 1070. Italy (pop. 60 million) had 2.1 million infections and 1217 deaths per one million people. Italy was among EU countries with the highest fatality rate from the virus. And, Spain (pop. 47 million) had 1.9 million cases and a COVID-19 fatality rate of 1084 by the end of 2020.

Most Central and Eastern Europe states avoided the worst of the first coronavirus wave in the Spring. However, at the end of 2020, these nations were experiencing some of the most rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the world. For example, Slovenia (pop. 2 million) had a total of 150 COVID-19 deaths as of October 1st, but then, over the next 10 weeks, that figure jumped to over 2,000. As the year closed, the country had 125K infections, 2.8K deaths, and a high fatality rate of 1,365 deaths per million people.

Compared to these high SARS-CoV-2 case numbers and morbidity rates, some EU countries maintained preventive measures throughout the Summer and Fall, which resulted in less infections and deaths. For example, Germany (pop. 83 million) had 1.7 million cases and a fatality rate of 396 deaths per million people. Denmark (pop. 6 million) had 170K cases and a fatality rate of 216. And, Norway (pop. 5 million) had 51K infections and 80 deaths per million people from COVID-19. Germany, Denmark and Norway implemented stronger lockdowns measures for longer periods of time, which reduced their numbers, compared to EU countries with higher fatality rates. This trend suggest that more open policies results in more deaths from this pandemic.

In Depth: North and South America

During this unprecedented year, in general, countries in North and South America remained mostly open with limited lockdowns, which resulted in higher COVID-19 fatality rates. For example, the USA (pop. 330 million) had 20 million SARS-CoV-2 cases and a COVID-19 fatality rate of 1034 deaths per million people. Brazil (pop. 210 million) had 7.7 million infections and a fatality rate of 912. Columbia (pop. 50 million) had 1.7 million cases and a death rate of 843. Argentina (pop. 45 million) had 1.6 million cases and a fatality rate of 961. Mexico (pop. 126 million) had 1.4 million cases and a death rate of 968. Peru (pop. 32 million) had 1 million infections and a fatality rate of 1139. And, Bolivia (pop. 11 million) had 167K cases and 783 deaths per million people.

Fatality rates in the Western Hemisphere are as high as those in the worse EU countries, but there are a few exceptions. Like Germany, Canada (pop. 37 million) took strong lockdown and preventative measures, which resulted in 610K cases and a fatality rate of 410. The states with the first and second highest number of total COVID-19 deaths are both in the Western Hemisphere - the USA (350K) and Brazil (195K). Tellingly, the machismo leaders of both countries downplayed the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and resisted lockdowns. Their inaction show that doing little to slow the spread of SARS viruses leads to more deaths.

In Depth: Asia

In the East, where SARS-CoV-2 supposedly originated, COVID-19 fatality rates are far lower than those in the West. Asian countries have more experience in dealing with infectious disease, compared to the West. For example, a SARS-associated coronavirus, originated in China in 2002, and killed more than 800 people around the world by 2003. Asian countries have prior experience with the SARS virus, so there is more health compliance, like avoiding contact, mask-wearing and isolation. One exception is India, which has the third highest COVID-19 deaths (178K). With 107 deaths per million people, India also has the highest COVID-19 fatality rate in Asia. One main reason is that India's strong lockdown policy triggered a mass migration of laborers from urban areas that spread the virus to rural areas. Better planning and support for workers could have limited the spread, but India's death rate is still almost 10 times less than that of the UK and US.

Although Asian countries have larger populations, their SARS-CoV-2 case and morbidity numbers in 2020 were much lower than countries in the West. For example, the Philippines (pop. 106 million) had 475K cases, 9K deaths, and a COVID-19 fatality rate of 84 deaths per million people. Indonesia (pop. 267 million) had 770K infections, 22K deaths and a death rate of 80. Nepal (pop. 28 million) had 262K cases, 1.8K deaths, and a fatality rate of 63. Myanmar (pop. 54 million) had 126K infections, 2.7K fatalities, and a rate of 48 deaths per million people.

In Bangladesh (pop. 161 million), there were 516K cases of SARS-CoV-2, 7.5K deaths from COVID-19, and a fatality rate of 45. Pakistan (pop. 212 million) had 490K infections, 10.5K deaths and a fatality rate of 46. Japan (pop. 126 million) had 243K cases, 3.5K fatalities and a rate of 25 deaths per million people. South Korea (pop. 51 million) had 64K infections, 1K deaths and a fatality rate of 17, and China had 3 deaths per million people. In Oceania, the rates of death from the virus are lower still. Australia's COVID-19 fatality rate was 35, and New Zealand (pop. 5 million) had 2.1K infections, 25 deaths and a fatality rate of 5 deaths per million people. These figures show that lockdowns and preventive measures were effective in reducing morbidity rates in the East.

In Depth: West Asia and Africa

West Asia was slow to implement lockdown measures in 2020, and many restrictions were not followed or enforced. There is an uneven distribution of COVID-19 fatality rates per million people across the region. For example, in Iran (pop. 82 million), there were 1.2 million infections of SARS-CoV-2, 55K deaths from COVID-19, and a high fatality rate of 650 deaths per million people. Turkey (pop. 82 million) had 2.2 million cases, 21K deaths, and a fatality rate of 250. Saudi Arabia (pop. 33 million) had 363K infections, 6.2K deaths, and a fatality rate of 175. In Egypt (pop. 98 million), there were 143K cases, 7.8K deaths, and a low fatality rate of 76.

Lockdowns and restrictions were uneven in Africa as well. And fatality rates per million people vary widely on the vast African continent, from high to low. For example, South Africa (pop. 58 million) had 1.1 million SARS-CoV-2 infections, 30K deaths from COVID-19, and Africa's highest fatality rate at 472 deaths per million people. Tunisia (pop. 12 million) had 144K cases, 4.8K deaths and a fatality rate of 390. Morocco (pop. 36 million) had 430K infections, 7.5K deaths and a fatality rate of 199. In contrast, Kenya (pop. 51 million) had 95K cases, 1.5K deaths, and a fatality rate of 31 COVID-19 deaths per million people. And Ghana (pop. 30 million) had 55K infections, 335 deaths and a fatality rate of 10 deaths per million people. Unlike West Asian states, most African countries have managed to limit their number of infections and deaths. Many African countries have decades of experience dealing with infectious disease, like hepatitis, HIV, Ebola and cholera, so there is greater health compliance, like mask-wearing and isolation.

Comorbidity Factors

A third basic question from 2020 relates to comorbidities and other issues that can lead to higher COVID-19 fatality rates. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) state that some pre-existing health conditions can increase the likelihood of illness and death from the disease.[3] For example, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and severe obesity can lead to more severe symptoms and outcomes. Age and sex are factors important as well. The length and amount of exposure to the virus is significant, and the weather is a key driver, as colder Winter temperatures have resulted in higher transmission and morbidity rates.

Higher GDP Equals More Deaths

One other lesson we can learn about the difference in the death rates per million people in countries and regions across the globe is that Western and developed nations have higher death rates than Eastern states and those that are less developed. This is shown is a chart comparing death rates and gross domestic production (GDP). On the GDP chart, the countries with higher fatality rates skew towards the top-right, consisting of high GDP states in the EU, like Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, and France, plus the USA and Canada. On the other hand, countries with lower death rates per million people skew towards the bottom-left, consisting of low GDP states in Africa and Asia, like Liberia, Ghana, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

Is this GDP and morbidity difference similar to the distinction between higher fatalities in Western states and lower fatalities in Eastern countries that have more experience with infectious diseases and compliance to health regulations? On the chart, many Asian countries are on the right in terms of GDP and in the middle in regards to mortality, for example, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. These Asian countries are more similar to Western states than lower GDP countries in Africa with lower fatality rates per million people.

Carnism and Comorbidities

The co-relation between higher GDPs and higher fatality rates per million people is surprising. Higher GDP countries have advanced medical resources and care, with more doctors, nurses, ICU beds, ventilators, etc., than lower GDP states. So the death rates in rich nations should be lower, not higher. One explanation for the higher death rates relates to diet. Specifically the over-consumption of animal products in higher GDP countries leads to obesity and comorbidities that increase the risk of more severe illness and death from COVID-19. For example, the CDC state that over 40% of adults in the US are obese. The UN FAO chart on meat consumption show that countries with higher food animal consumption are countries with higher GDP, like the US, Canada and the UK. The USA is the top consumer of food animals, and it also has the most COVID-19 deaths.


Food animal consumption is linked to the origin of deadly SARS viruses, and also to higher fatality rates. Yet, there no calls to reduce animal consumption. If the over-consumption rates of the wealthiest nations are not curbed, this will lead to increasing obesity and more COVID-19 deaths. There is little evidence that food animal consumption is slowing, and average GDP countries are starting to follow the same trend as high GDP nations in terms of diet and disease.

Moses Seenarine is the author of Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

[1] Staff. 2020. Coronavirus Resource Center, Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. Dec. 31.

[2] Staff. 2020. Our World in Data. Global Change Data Lab, University of Oxford.

[3] Ogden, Cynthia. 2015. "Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2011–2014." CDC. November 

Urbanization and Carnism


Meat Society: Number 15 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

Rapid urbanization has had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on food consumption patterns. There is higher caloric intake because cities offer a greater range of food choices. This is combined with lower-energy expenditure in urban jobs, and a reduction of physical activity of 10 to 15% compared with rural work. Plus, there is greater inactivity in leisure time.(473)

Urbanization affects lifestyle and food consumption by modification of dietary behavior. To boot, urbanization in the next few decades will primarily be a problem in developing countries that are unprepared to deal with an increasingly unhealthy demographic.(474) Obesity and diabetes are advancing faster in cities than in rural areas of the Global South.

The urbanization niche has been seized by the fast food industry by providing quick access to cheap take-away meals. These meals are crafted to satisfy consumers' demand for foods high in salt, fat, and sugar. As such, the most popular fast food items, like hamburgers, pizzas, and fried chicken, have 30% of their food energy as fat.

In China, the expansion in the consumption of animal products is higher for urban residents compared with those living in the countryside. In 1997, intake of animal foods was greater for urban people, 178 g (6.2 oz) per capita per day, compared with rural dwellers at 116 g (4.1 oz) per capita per day).(475)

Only 10 or 20 years ago, in many parts of the world, consuming the flesh of food animals was a luxury. But animal-based foods are now a part of the daily diet for a growing number of the middle class in developing countries. Big supermarket chains such as Walmart from the USA, France’s Carrefour, the UK’s Tesco and Germany’s Metro are conquering the globe. Their expansion has sparked massive investments by domestic supermarket companies. Fast food restaurants and chains are also rapidly advancing.

In regions where supermarkets have made major inroads into the food retailing system, the entire food economy, from farm-to-fork, is affected. For urban consumers, supermarkets can bring nutritional benefits with substantial improvements in the standards of food quality and safety.

Using fossil fuel, supermarkets have solved the problem of keeping animal-based products chilled at competitive prices. Cheaper and safer animal-based foods becomes available to the urban poor because of supermarkets, which induces demand. Stores bring the benefit of convenience as well, a particularly attractive feature to the urban consumer. In addition to population growth, urbanization and access are key structural forces driving carnism.

Chapter 13: OVER-CONSUMPTION CLASS, page 126

Animal Agribusiness Disorder

Meat Society: Number 8 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

In addition to greenhouse gases (GHGs), there are dozens of grave concerns regarding livestock production. These concerns, listed below, are consequential and must be addressed. On top of that, they potently relate to climate warming since they often generate GHG pollution. For instance, rural displacement may stimulate increase of carbon footprints through migration to urban areas and adoption of animal-based diets.

Food animal production negatively impacts the following 19 areas: (1) the loss of forest and earth's sequestration capacity. This acerbates (2) resource scarcity, and (3) soil loss which is critical to food security. (4) The animal industry's water-use threatens food supply, security and human welfare. Factory farms are the number one consumer of water in drought-stricken California, for example.

(5) There is the moral issue of wasting calories. With a billion and upwards malnourished people, the production of animal protein is far less efficient than producing equivalent amounts of plant protein. (6) Particularly troubling is the trend toward greater intensification and industrial production methods without regard to animal welfare. Animal factory farming is a new phenomenon that has established itself as the predominant mode of food animal production.

(7) Another worry is the consolidation of ownership and the enormous power wielded by multinational trading companies over local and national governments. This unequal power impacts negatively on democracy, local control, accountability and oversight, sustainability disclosure, corporate governance, and policy changes.

(8) There are massive and widespread problems with land rights, rural unemployment, displacement, violence, inequality, poor working conditions, and other forms of exploitation related to the sector. (9) Another major concern is that vast numbers of livestock and feed crops are often located in remote areas with severe effects on the environment, such as deforestation and land degradation, that is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity.

(10) Food animal production is often located close to cities or ports, where insufficient land is available for processing the waste. This leads to soil, air and water pollution, which cause humans and animals to become prone to ill-health and disease. (11) Factory farming is the number one user of antibiotics in the US, up to 80 percent. This is causing bacterial resistance which defeats the use of these lifesaving drugs.

(12) Another anxiety is that factory farms are inevitably breeding dangerous new strains of bacteria. Factory farming is the number one reason for the rapid spread of bird flu (H5N2) and swine flu (H1N1). (13) A further concern relates to health effects of genetically modified crops, and residues from herbicides, like glyphosate.

(14) Stagnating crop yields is an immense worry. (15) So too are the effects of climate change, such as heat stress and disease, on the production and efficiency of food animals. And, (16) livestock over-consumption, and the effects of an animal-based diet on human health, are immense causes for concern as well.

(17) Nutrient flows in the earth system are instrumental to food security and short-term GHG discharges. Some scenarios project that by 2050 global crops will expand by 82 percent, and livestock production will soar upwards 115 percent from 2000 levels. This massive addition in nutrient pollution, land and water requirements will lead to intensifying global hunger, resource conflicts, and refugee crises.

In addition, (18) there is a multiplicity of concerns regarding dependency, distribution and corruption in the food supply. And, (19) a trend towards eating processed, animal-based foods produced in a different country multiplies GHG emissions per gram, and makes monitoring countries’ individual GHG pollution far trickier. These concerns, as well as others, present troubling perplexities for creating a just and sustainable food production system.

From Chapter 11: WHAT CRISIS? page 112

Meat Society

Meat Society is a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

The articles are excerpts from  Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

See also Pandemics Ahead, a series of articles from Meat Climate Change, that looks at the link between animal protein and global health disasters. See also our COVID-19 Meat Pandemic Bibliography with a categorized listing of Online News and Reports (March to June, 2020).

1. Dietary Transformation

2. Trends in Animal Production

3. Global Carnism

4. US Animal Production

5. Food's Footprint

6. Food Animals' GHGs 

7. Addressing Livestock GHGs

8. Animal Agribusiness Disorder

9. Factory Farming is Not a Solution

10. Structural Demand for Animal Flesh

11. Mitigating Demand for Animal Protein

12. GHGs: A Tale of Two Sources

13. Livestock's Emissions Denial?

14. Sounding the Alarm on Carnism

15. Urbanization and Carnism

16. Over-Consumption and GHGs

17. Global Substitution Diets

18. Class and Global Diet

19. Over-Consumption Curse

20. Diet or Over Population?

21. Hungry Masses

22. Hidden Population: Obesity

23. Livestock Triangle

24. Livestock Equals Food Insecurity

25. Meat and Colonialism

26. Climate Justice

27. Racism and Food Deserts

28. Meat the Patriarchy

29. Greenwashing Cruelty: Humane Meat

30. Diet and Social Justice

For more information, see

Farmed Fish

Pandemics Ahead: Number 21 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157)

Industrial fish-farms are booming. In 2012, the production of farmed fish surpassed that of cows. The world produced 63 million tons of cow carcass and 66 million tons of farmed fish. And, consumption of farmed fish may soon pass consumption of wild-caught fish. (977)

About 600 aquatic species are raised in captivity in 190 countries, including hatcheries that produce fish for stocking to the wild, particularly in inland waters. While aquaculture currently accounts for a smaller part of the livestock industry than land animals, it is the fastest growing sector.

From 32.4 million tonnes (71.4 billion pounds) in 2000, global production of farmed fish soared to 59.9 million tonnes (132 billion pounds) in 2010, which was up 7.5% from 2009 already. Like concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs), farmed fish are crammed together in cages, often swimming around in their own wastes.

Eighty-six percent of US seafood is imported, and about half of those imports are raised on factory farms, called aquaculture. Asia is the number one producer of these aquaculture products, dominating 89% of the industry.(978) 

Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish consumed within 20 years. Farming can occur in coastal areas, such as with oyster farms, and inland, in lakes, ponds, tanks and other enclosures. Similar to livestock's impact on forests, large-scale fish farming is leading to the pollution and destruction of wetlands, estuaries and mangroves, and displacement and impoverishment of hundreds local communities across the world.

Many of the top animal genetics firms have begun research and development in aquaculture. They work with only a handful of species, primarily Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, tropical shrimp and tilapia. Many popular seafood species, like salmon, are carnivorous. So, when they are farmed, they eat up to five pounds of small fish to produce just one pound of flesh - a net loss of protein. 

Incredibly, many aquaculture companies in China, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Asian countries feed fish with untreated feces from pigs, chickens, geese and other animals as the primary nutrition. The manure contaminates the ponds with microbes like salmonella and makes fish further susceptible to diseases.(979)

Consequently, farmed fish are given immense quantities of antibiotics to avoid disease, many of which are banned for use in the US. To boot, baby fish are fed testosterone and other growth hormones. Aquaculture may cause harm to the environment directly through (i) the release of organic effluents, and (ii) disease treatment chemicals. They may cause harm indirectly through (iii) their dependence on industrial fisheries to supply feed of smaller fish, and (iv) by acting as a source of diseases or genetic contamination for 'wild' species.

Farmed fish have been shown to have high levels of bacteria, PCBs and insecticides. Around 25% of the food-borne illness outbreaks caused by imported food from 2005 to 2010 in the US involved seafood, more than any other food commodity.(980) Health researchers estimate that the inflammatory potential of consuming tilapia is far greater than that of cow or pig carcass.(981) Farmed salmon may have at least 10 times the sum of cancer-causing pollutants compared to the 'wild' variety, and dioxin levels are 11 times higher. On top of this, farm-bred fish have lower levels of healthy nutrients.(982) Shrimp is the dirtiest of all seafood.

Farmed fish are fed fish-meal, which means that fish low on the food chain are caught, worsening the marine outcome of bycatch. The impact on the menhaden, a type of small fish caught to be fed to farmed fish, is devastating, as this critical little fish is facing severe threats.(983)

Across Latin America and Asia, pollution from aquaculture is leading to dead lakes and extinct species. On top of that, aquaculture production is vulnerable to adverse impacts of disease and environmental conditions, and massive die-offs are a common occurrence in the industry. Disease outbreaks in recent years have affected farmed Atlantic salmon in Chile, oysters in Europe, and marine shrimp farmed in several countries in Asia, South America and Africa. These incidents have resulted in partial or sometimes total loss of production.

In 2010, aquaculture in China suffered production losses of 1.7 million tonnes (3.7 billion pounds) caused by natural disasters, diseases and pollution. Disease outbreaks virtually wiped out marine shrimp farming production in Mozambique in 2011.(984) In 2014 alone, there was (i) a massive die-off of fish in 44 fish farms due to Vibrio bacteria along the coast of Singapore; (ii) over 365,000 salmon were killed due to an outbreak of infectious salmon anaemia virus in Norway, and (iii) Furunculosis bacteria led to the cull of 90,000 trout in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, (iii) around 52,000 young trout died in a hatchery; and (iv) about 280,000 salmon were killed by a 'rare algae bloom' in Vancouver, Canada.(985)

In 2016, the alarms went off again in the salmon industry in Chile, one of the largest producers of this fish in the world. A massive algae bloom killed 23 million salmon, a loss of up to 20% of the country's annual production, or around 100,000 tonnes, valued at $800 million.(986) Earlier in Chile, an outbreak of ISA, a fin-fish disease caused by a virus, cost the fish farm industry $2 billion in damages in 2007.

Chile's loss is equal to the value of Canada's entire farmed salmon industry, valued at $813 million in 2013. The problem has been made worse by nitrate-rich runoff from livestock from nearby land around the salmon farms, which are typically offshore or in estuaries.

Moreover, farmed fish are becoming inundated with human pollution. For example, young salmon in the north Pacific tested positive for more than 80 different drugs, including cocaine, antidepressants such as Cipro, Paxil, Valium and Zoloft, and dozens of other medications like Flonase, Aleve, Tylenol, Tagamet, OxyContin, and Darvon.(987)

Young salmon were likewise contaminated with nicotine, caffeine, fungicides, antiseptics, anticoagulants, and chemicals from personal care products. The tissues of migratory chinook salmon and local staghorn sculpin also contained these compounds – even in the fish found in estuaries far from sewage treatment plants where the water was previously considered "pristine."

Chapter 26: MISSING FISH, pages 252-3.     Previous  |  Home  Next

For more information, see

Antibiotics and Superbugs

Pandemics Ahead: Number 17 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

For centuries, infections caused by bacteria were a major source of disease and death from illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. The discovery of antibiotics has proven critical in greatly reducing infectious diseases, and protecting public health relies heavily on the use of antibiotics.

Livestock are usually given the same antibiotics as humans. Many of the same antibiotics used to promote growth in nonhuman animals, six of the 17 classes of antibiotics, are used to treat diseases in human animals.(606) According to WHO, much larger volumes of antibiotics are being fed to healthy farm animals than to sick human beings.

The widening use of antibiotics in animal production has gone hand-in-hand with the development of industrial-style livestock operations. Thousands of animals are crammed into the unhygienic, crowded quarters of a typical factory farm operation. To avoid disease, antibiotics are constantly dispensed through the animals' feed. On top of this, due to varied climate effects, veterinary medicine use will go up as disease burdens spread.(607)

The sale of antibiotics to treat ill people remained fairly steady from 2001 to 2011, at around 8 million pounds (3.6m kg) per year globally. In the same period, the sale of antibiotics for cattle and chicken production soared 50 percent, from 20 million pounds (9m kg), to 30 million pounds (13.6m kg) per year.(608)

And, according to the FDA, US sales of medically indispensable antibiotics approved for use in livestock surged another 23 percent between 2009 and 2014. In 2014 alone, domestic sales and distribution of these critical drugs climbed by three percent.(609) In addition, globally, the use of antibiotics in agriculture is set to increase by two thirds by 2030, from 63,200 to 105,600 tons.(610)

In 2006, the EU prohibited the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth. Even so, this did not result in a meaningful curtailing of their use on factory farms. With resistant bacteria and food-borne illnesses on the rise, the CDC has agreed to limit the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of livestock animals when those drugs are used to treat people. But the US government has thus far failed to reduce the threat to human health caused by ineffective antibiotics.(611)

In 2013, the FDA finally recommended for drug makers and agricultural companies to restrict the application of antibiotics in livestock production “to those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health.” The health agency is trying to phase out antibiotic use as a growth enhancer in livestock, to keep them out of the human food supply.

However, the federal government suggested that antibiotics could still be used to treat illnesses in animals raised for meat, but they should otherwise be pared back by December 2016. All the same, the FDA's guidelines are voluntary, and may not limit the overuse and the demise of antibiotics in the future.(612) Case in point, antibiotic use escalated in 2014, even after the guidelines were issued. 

In other parts of the world, the use of these valuable drugs is subject to hardly any regulations or restrictions whatsoever. In China, in excess of 100,000 tonnes (220 million lb) of antibiotics are fed to livestock every year, largely without being monitored.

Fifty million pounds of antibiotics are produced in the US every year. Over 40 percent is given to animals, and 80 percent of what is given to animals is used to promote their growth, as probiotics, not for illness.(613) Animal-based agribusiness utilized 13,000 tonnes (28.6 million lb) of antibiotics in 2009, and accounts for nearly 80 percent of all the antibiotics used in the country.

A major concern is that repeated exposure to the drugs enables resistant strains of bacteria to evolve. Some bacteria are naturally resistant, so they survive treatment and multiply. When antibiotics are given again, the resistant bacteria survive, and as their proportion of the bacterial population accrues over time, the drugs become less effective.

The bigger volume of antibiotics in use, the greater likelihood bacteria will become insusceptible to them. These resistant bacteria can enter the human body when people eat food animals. This puts humans in danger as bacterial strains develop stronger resistances. The annual cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the US alone is upwards of $30 billion and mounting.(614)

Drug-resistant infections currently kill about 50,000 people each year in the US and Europe, and that number could reach as high as 10 million deaths by 2050, according to research by the UK government.(615) Every time an antibiotic is administered, there is a chance that some bacteria will develop resistance to it.

'Superbugs' are pathogens such as Escherichia coli, salmonella or campylobacteria that can infect humans as well. They are resistant to several different antibiotics and are therefore particularly difficult to treat. Testing in 2011 discerned the antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus faecalis was present in supermarkets on samples of all forms of livestock: on 81 percent of turkey, 69 percent of pig, 55 percent of cow, and 29 percent of chicken flesh samples.(616)

In October 2000, the FDA discovered that two antibiotics were no longer effective in treating diseases in factory-farmed chickens. One antibiotic was swiftly pulled from the market, but the other, Baytril, was not. Bayer, the company which produced it, contested the claim and as a result, Baytril remained in use until July 2005.(617)

Resistance in food-borne zoonotic bacteria Salmonella and Campylobacter are clearly linked to antibiotic use in food animals, and foodborne diseases caused by such resistant bacteria are well documented in people.(618) Drug-resistant infections, some fatal, have been mounting in people in the US, and antibiotic-resistant genes in bacteria infecting humans were identical to some of the same bacteria infecting animals.(619)

Developing brand-new antibiotics is expensive, and new drugs may only prove effective for a short term. Put simply, pharmaceutical companies have decided antibiotics are less worthwhile investments than drugs for chronic illnesses. One ramification of this is that strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis and gonorrhea are on the rise worldwide.

In the US, antibiotic resistance bacteria caused in excess of two million illnesses in 2013, and an estimated 23,000 deaths, adding up to over $20 million in healthcare costs. Drug resistance in campylobacter bacteria, the most common known cause of bacterial food-borne illness in the US, spiraled from zero in 1991 to 14 percent in 1998.(620)

According to the CDC, in over one-third of the salmonella-poisoning cases in 1997, the bacteria were resistant to five antibiotics used to treat the disease. As confirmation, the agency linked an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in humans to cow carcass that had been fed sub-therapeutic doses of chlortetracycline for growth promotion.(621)

Staph bacteria, which cause skin, blood, heart valve, and bone infections that can lead to septic shock and death, are becoming progressively resistant to the chief antibiotic that has been used to treat staph infections, methicillin. From 1975 to 1991, the incidence of methicillin-resistant staph bacteria in US hospitals surged upwards from 2.4 percent to 29 percent. Staph infections are becoming progressively resistant to the last line of defense, vancomycin.(622) This critical intersection of food animals and human disease is a serious cause for concern in the present and future.

Chapter 16: MEAT IS OPPRESSION, pg 160-61  Previous  |  Home  Next

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Mercury Poisoning

Pandemics Ahead: Number 17 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

These have been a tripling of the surface water mercury content in the oceans, compared to pre-industrial conditions, and a 150 percent increase in the magnitude of mercury in the underlying thermocline water layer.(1046) Doses of mercury associated with typical rates of fish consumption may pose measurable endangerment to human health, and there is no safe threshold for this dangerous chemical.

Several experiments have documented mercury hazards from eating fish in the US (1047) and South Korea.(1048) Risks were identified with consumption of 120g of dried shark for methylmercury in Oman as well.(1049) In environments without oxygen, mercury combines with carbon to become methylmercury, a highly toxic compound. Bottom-dwelling fish consume methylmercury particles on the ocean floor and are then eaten by larger fish. Large fish such as sharks, swordfish and king mackerel contain the largest amounts of methylmercury because they are higher up in the food chain.

Since 2002, seafood consumption in the US has grown substantially, which means that US fish consumers have higher concentrations of mercury in their bodies. Tuna - canned light, canned albacore and fresh/frozen varieties - accounts for 37.4 percent of the total mercury inputs for US consumers. And alarmingly, between 1998 and 2008, mercury levels in yellowfin tuna have increased nearly four percent annually. This trend will continue and possibly accelerate, with dire implications for human health and a range of ocean species.(1050)

Mercury is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Among other hazards, it can result in children born with brain damage. Tuna and sea bass are loaded with mercury, while shark and swordfish are worse. Exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. High levels in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.

A study by Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that Mercury levels in women who frequently eat fish are 11 times higher than in women who rarely eat seafood. Findings show that almost 30 percent of the women had more mercury in their bodies than the level the US Environmental Protection Agency considers safe, 1 ppm (part per million).(1051) The limit of 1 ppm was calculated in 2000, but EWG has advocated for a stricter mercury limit of 0.58 ppm based on updated research from 2007. Almost 60 percent of women had more mercury in their system than this stricter limit. 

During pregnancy, the dietary goal for omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA) is 650 mg, of which 300 is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). And, although some women eat more than twice as much fish as the average American, almost 60 percent of them still do not get the amount of omega-3s recommended during pregnancy from seafood in their diets.

Fish do not synthesize DHA or EPA, rather, these are derived from the plankton and microalgae they eat. So supplements made from algae-based DHA could be used to obtain omega-3s, instead of fish. Also, nuts and seeds such as walnuts, flax-seed and canola oil contain omega-3s, although the body has to convert these plant sources from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to DHA.(1052) 

Chapter 28: HUMAN DISEASES, pg 268-9    Previous  |  Home  |  Next

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Air Pollution

Pandemics Ahead: Number 16 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

Animal-based agriculture can cause serious air quality problems that result from dust, smog, chemicals, and odors. People who live near or work on factory farms, breathe in numerous gases formed as manure decomposes. The stench of ammonia and other noxious fumes can be unbearable, but worse still, the gases contain many harmful chemicals.

The level of antibiotics 20 yards (18 m) away from a giant cattle feed-lot, is similar to an enclosed, industrial pig operation. Wind dispersed particulate matter from outdoor feed-lots carry prodigious amounts of antibiotics, antibiotic resistance genes, and bacteria, far downwind. Some of the transported bacteria can cause human infections.(1058) 

Working environments within many concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and stables remains largely uncontrolled. Endotoxin-contaminated organic dust present significant respiratory hazards for workers. Reaction to endotoxins can lead to anaphylactic shock and death. Exposure control to endotoxins, and prevention strategies for livestock workers are urgently required.(1059)

In addition to endotoxin hazard for workers, the dust generated by animal activity and farming practices contribute to air quality problems far removed from factory farms. These widely dispersed air pollutants can cause respiratory illness, lung inflammation, and enhanced weakness to respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Massive discharges of reactive organics and ammonia from CAFOs play a role in the formation of ozone (smog) and particulates in the air, as well.

Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans. At high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide can lead to brain damage, but this gas is dangerous even at low levels. Its effects, which are irreversible, range from mild, a sore throat, to severe with seizures, comas, and even death. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died from hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits. 

Other common health effects associated with chemicals emanating from factory farms are headaches, shortness of breath, wheezing, excessive coughing, and diarrhea.

Chapter 28: HUMAN DISEASES, page 270.   Previous  |  Home  Next

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Milk Allergy & Meat Allergy

Pandemics Ahead: Number 15 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

Milk Allergy

Allergy to cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in infants and young children. Symptoms of a milk allergy reaction can range from mild, such as hives, to severe, such as anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Around 2.5 percent of children younger than three years of age are allergic to milk. Nearly all infants who develop an allergy to milk do so in their first year of life.

The allergy is most likely to persist in children who have high levels of cow’s milk antibodies in their blood. With a milk allergy, the immune system thinks dairy is a foreign invader and attacks it by releasing chemicals called histamines. During anaphylaxis, allergic symptoms can affect several areas of the body and may threaten breathing and blood circulation. Other animal-based foods that can cause severe allergic reactions are fish and shellfish.

Meat Allergy

Alpha-gal allergy or meat allergy is a reaction to this molecule found in almost all mammals. The body becomes overloaded with antibodies on contact with the carbohydrate. Bites from the lone star tick or the chigger can transfer this carbohydrate to victims, which causes a delayed allergic response that is triggered by the consumption of mammalian flesh.(1053)

The allergy most often occurs in the central and southern US, which corresponds to the distribution of the lone star tick. Allergy rates are 32 percent higher than elsewhere, however, doctors are not required to report the number of patients suffering from the alpha-gal allergies, so the true number of affected individuals is unknown.

Some people with cat allergies may also be allergic to pig carcass and other food animals because of a type of cross-reactive allergy known as pork-cat syndrome. Alpha-gal allergies are very similar to pork-cat syndrome so mis-identification can occur.(1054) The reaction occurs 4 to 8 hours after the consumption of mammalian flesh products, instead of the typical rapid onset with most food allergies. After the delayed onset, the allergic response is typical of most food allergies, including severe whole-body itching, hives, angioedema (swelling under the skin), gastrointestinal upset, and possible anaphylaxis.

Chapter 28: HUMAN DISEASES, page 269.   Previous  |  Home  |  Next

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Altering Gut Bacteria & Meat Parasites

Pandemics Ahead: Number 14 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

Gut Bacteria

Research show that consumption of plant-based foods versus those of animal origin is the main cause for variance in human gut microbes. Long-term vegetarian diets have contributed to large shifts in microbiota composition. And importantly, gut bacteria are related to the body's immune system.(1011) Carcass from pig, cow, and sheep contains a sugar, Neu5Gc, which is naturally produced by carnivores, but not humans. That means that when humans eat red animal flesh, the body triggers an immune response to the foreign sugar, producing antibodies which spark inflammation, and eventually cancer.(1012) This may help explain potential connections of animal consumption to other diseases exacerbated by chronic inflammation, such as atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes. Further, a pigment in red meat may damage the DNA of cells lining the digestive system.

Meat Parasites

There are several parasitic diseases associated with ingestion of cattle and pig flesh, and organic flesh may have higher parasite risk. Parasites include toxoplasma cysticercosis, sarcocystis, taenia saginata, taeniasis and trichinosis. T.solium, also known as pork tapeworms, can measure up to 10m (33 ft) when mature and are among the biggest of a ribbon-like worm that infect humans. Malnutrition can occur as the worm competes with the body for food.

Eating under-cooked carcass especially from pig, sheep and wild animals such as deer, is one of the main ways people become infected with the toxoplasma parasite. T. gondii presents more of a threat to pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system. In its earliest stages, the illness causes flu-like symptoms, and if severe, can cause damage to the brain, eyes and other organs. In the US, T. gondii is responsible for more than 4,000 hospitalizations and 300 deaths annually, ranking it fourth among food pathogens.

The pig tapeworm, cysticercosis, is particularly common in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. In some areas it is believed that up to 25% of people are affected. The ancient knowledge of tapeworms in pigs may be one of the reasons for pig flesh being forbidden by Jewish and Islamic dietary laws. People may have little or no symptoms for years. Some parasites affects the brain and can have neurological symptoms. In developing countries this is one of the most common causes of seizures.(1055)

Sarcocystis is a genus of protozoa related to toxoplasma and eimeria. They are parasites infecting mammals, reptiles and birds. Four different species can infect cattle, sheep, and pig and infection is very common. The infection rate in sheep is above 90%, and it is over 80% in cattle and goats. Ingesting infected animal flesh can lead to anorexia, nausea, abdominal pain, distension, diarrhea, vomiting, dyspnoea and tachycardia. Symptoms may last as long as five years. Infection by Taeniasis is due to eating cysts in poorly cooked pig carcass. Treating those with taeniasis and other parasites is important to prevent their spread, but many people go untreated.(1056)

Chapter 28: HUMAN DISEASES, page 269.   Previous  |  Home  |  Next

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Food-borne Illnesses

Pandemics Ahead: Number 13 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

Animal consumption is a major cause of food-borne illnesses, a preventable public health challenge that causes illnesses for millions of people and thousands of deaths each year in the US alone. Food-borne illnesses come from eating food contaminated with bacteria, like (a) Campylobacter jejuni from raw or unpasteurized cow's milk; (b) raw or undercooked carcass, birds, or shellfish; and (c) contaminated water. 

There are over 2,300 types of Salmonella that can come from raw or undercooked chicken eggs, chicken flesh, cow carcass, unpasteurized cow's milk and juice, cheese, seafood, and contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables. The CDC estimates that Salmonella causes upwards of one million illnesses per year and over 20,000 hospitalizations. On top of that, Campylobacter causes in excess of one million illnesses annually.(1043)

Over 1.1 million Americans are sickened each year by undercooked, tainted chicken flesh. A USDA investigation discovered E. coli (Biotype I) in 99% of supermarket chicken. This shows that chicken butchering is not a sterile process. Feces tend to leak from the carcass until disembowelment, and the evisceration stage itself gives an opportunity for the interior of the carcass to receive intestinal bacteria. So does the skin of the carcass, but the skin presents a better barrier to bacteria and reaches higher temperatures during cooking.(1044) 

Food-borne illnesses are oftentimes caused by other animal-based pathogens including (i) Clostridium perfringens from carcass, animal products, and gravy; (ii) Vibrio vulnificus from uncooked or raw seafood; and (iii) Escherichia coli from uncooked cow carcass, unpasteurized cow's milk and juices, and contaminated raw fruits and vegetables, or water. Another common food-borne illnesses is (iv) Listeria monocytogenes from ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausage, and other deli-style flesh and chicken carcass.

Chapter 28: HUMAN DISEASES, page 267.

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