The Spread of Bird Flu Should Be a Wake-up Call: Eating Animals Is Killing Us All

If you’re not already concerned about bird flu, you should be. The virus has now been found in at least 51 dairy herds in nine states as well as on countless bird and egg farms in the U.S. At least two humans have been infected in the U.S.

Yet just weeks after the Biden administration announced plans to work with 50 other countries to prevent zoonotic (animal-borne) diseases, Alabama and Florida passed laws making it illegal to produce meat that comes from cells grown in labs rather than from animals confined on filthy, disease-ridden farms and then slaughtered. Other states are considering similar legislation. This is a giant leap in the wrong direction.

Intensive animal factories — where most animals used for food are confined — not only cause immense suffering and environmental destruction but also are hotbeds for zoonotic diseases. Sickness proliferates when animals are crowded into feces-filled sheds, cages, crates and stalls and are slaughtered on killing floors covered in blood, vomit and other bodily fluids. Meat grown in labs — aka “slaughterless meat” — meanwhile, is created in clean, controlled conditions in which diseases don’t flourish.

Scientists estimate that there are 144 strains of bird flu. The H5N1 variety that’s aggressively spreading kills the most birds and is deadly to humans, killing about 60% of those who catch it. The World Health Organization recently warned that the mortality rate for humans who catch bird flu is “extraordinarily high,” noting that we’re already in the midst of “a global zoonotic animal pandemic.”

Humans coming into contact with infected animals have become sick and can catch the virus just by touching a contaminated surface, such as an eggshell, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Consumers Union suspects that bird flu may have spread to cows because they’re routinely fed chicken litter. It typically consists of manure, feathers, feed and bedding materials as well as bacteria, viruses, antibiotics, heavy metals, pesticides, dead rodents and more. It’s often mixed with hay or corn to make it more appealing to hungry cows.

But bird flu isn’t the only zoonotic disease we have to worry about. In 2009, before COVID-19 circled the globe, swine flu swept through the U.S. after hundreds of sick pigs died on a massive farm in Mexico. Swine flu thrives on pig farms, where tens of thousands of animals are crammed into damp sheds that reek of urine and feces.

Health officials are quick to point out that humans can’t get swine flu from eating pork, but they rarely emphasize this important detail: The practice of raising pigs for food puts us all at risk of contracting it.

Vegan foods, meanwhile, have never caused an animal-borne disease and can even protect people from pandemics. A Brazilian research team, for example, found that people who ate predominantly vegan foods had a 39% lower risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. And while slaughter-free meat isn’t widely available yet, delicious vegan meats and other cruelty-free foods are everywhere.

Wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to stop eating animals before another pandemic emerges? Choosing vegan nuggets instead of ones made from ground-up birds doesn’t just save animals’ lives — it might save yours, too.