This week, Smithfield Foods announced they are closing one of their largest pork producing plants as a result of employees falling ill with Covid-19. The story made headlines in several news outlets with fear-filled commentary that the nation could soon face a meat shortage.
Let me first say I genuinely feel terrible for the employees who are sick. I would never wish this horrible virus on anyone and I hope they get well soon.
But let’s also be real. Our country’s obscene meat consumption, pushed by multi-billion dollar corporations like Smithfield’s and our own government’s millions in subsidies, fuels some of the most toxic ills in society today. Meat production is not only the main cause of cruelty to animals in America, it’s also one of the leading contributors to climate change and environmental degradation. Additionally, meat— particularly processed meat like bacon— has been linked to some of the top killers in our nation: heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain forms cancer. All health conditions which, by the way, increase your chance of death from Covid-19.
So our media acting like a meat shortage would be a bad thing? Ridiculous. In reality, it’d be one of the few positive things to happen to our country from this crisis. It would force Americans to get their protein from a much better source: plants.
In fact, if we don’t do that, the next pandemic could start right in our own backyard.
On the same day that news outlets were scaring Americans that they may not be able to
get heart disease buy bacon anymore, Smithsonian Magazine published an article that should give us all pause. It detailed a deadly coronavirus that struck the United States in 2013 – on pig factory farms.
Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) ruthlessly made its way through 32 states and killed 10 percent of America’s pig population, roughly eight million animals. Though the virus never crossed over to humans, the disease ravaged the bodies of pigs with severe gastrointestinal complications. Could you even imagine millions of people dying this way?
Covid-19, though a different disease than PEDv, is also caused by a coronavirus that first emerged in animals. It’s believed Covid-19 was first transmitted to humans in China, at a wet market— an animal exploitation operation not so different from a factory farm.
In a bi-partisan effort last week, Senators Cory Booker and Lindsey Graham called on countries around the globe to close their wet markets following the coronavirus pandemic. But what about the factory farms right here in America? Are we going to bury our heads in the sand and pretend they’re not just as dangerous?
While the meat shortage may cause some to unnecessarily panic, I think it could give us an opportunity as a nation to take a much needed break. Just like the smog that has lifted in Los Angeles thanks to the absence of cars, the absence of meat would abate many of the underlying health issues that currently plague Americans. It would also greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions which fuel climate change, and it would alleviate unimaginable animal suffering.
A break from meat is not a cause to panic, it’s just what the doctor ordered.