The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) now spreading across the globe is just one more example of a situation in which a virus has leaped from animals to people. Many viruses are harmless to animals but mutate and become deadly when they infect human beings.
SARS evolved in southern China, where 80 million people share living space with the ducks, chickens, pigs, shrimp, and carp they eat. Chicken waste is fed to pigs. Pig waste is dumped into ponds in which shrimp and fish are raised for food. All the animals are crowded into small spaces where viruses thrive. One scientist called this area "a complete soup of chemicals and viruses." Another explained, "A virus gets into a duck, it jumps to the pig. It mutates, the pig excretes it and humans can become infected."
The World Health Organization reports that, like SARS, the annual influenzas that sicken and kill thousands every year almost always originate in animals in southern China and Hong Kong.
All this disease comes from people's desire to consume meat and to farm animals in small spaces. The stress of intensive farming promotes illness, which is why massive doses of antibiotics are put into animal feed on Western factory farms-antibiotics which, in turn, lower human resistance to disease.
SARS is thought to be a virulent form of coronavirus. A top Canadian researcher believes that "the coronavirus in animals may be associated with the 'shipping fever' pigs and cattle get when they are stressed by the crowded transport situations they are in when they are sent to feedlots before slaughter."
The consequences of unnatural farming practices and eating animal flesh have killed millions of people. In addition to SARS, animals killed for consumption are also likely to carry listeria, salmonella, leukosis (chicken cancer), campylobacter, and E. coli bacteria, which thrive on crowded, filthy factory farms. Our meat addiction has led to a huge increase in the numbers slaughtered and a faster slaughter process, causing an increase in contamination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 8 million people are sickened by food-borne illnesses every year, and thousands die. This costs American patients, food producers, and the national economy more than $8 billion a year, according to the Journal of Food Protection.
SARS does not come close to delivering the tally of death, sickness, and tragedy that meat-related heart disease, cancer, strokes, high blood pressure, and other ailments cause.
According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, nutritional researcher at Cornell University and director of the largest epidemiological study in history, "The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented ... simply by adopting a plant-based diet."
And the cost to animals is beyond measure. Crammed together in tiny spaces, living above their own waste, never breathing fresh air or feeling the sunshine on their backs, they never know a moment's joy or contentment.
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