Intergovernmental Panel Links Pandemic Risk To Meat Consumption

An intergovernmental panel has gone where most governments fear to tread, linking the increasing risk of pandemics to—among other causes—excessive consumption of meat.
The report calls for transformative change to reduce the “consumption, globalized agricultural expansion and trade” that the panel says causes pandemics, including the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“This could include modifying previous calls for taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock production or other forms of high pandemic risk consumption,”says the report, released last week, from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
The report was prepared by 22 experts, mostly scientists nominated by governments and organizations.
Most governments and international bodies have avoided tinkering with the human diet. The Paris Agreement, for example, avoids addressing meat consumption directly despite the meat industry’s significant contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions.
In contrast, the IPBES recommends not only less consumption of wildlife that host pathogens like COVD-19, but also less consumption of domestic livestock that can bridge those pathogens to humans. The livestock trade, it notes, also releases pathogens through deforestation.
About 70 percent of emerging diseases are zoonoses, caused by microbes of animal origin, including Ebola, Zika, and Nipah encephalitis, the report notes, and almost all known pandemics are zoonoses including influenza, HIV/AIDS, and COVID-19.
“These microbes ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock, and people.”
Wildlife are not to blame for zoonotic pandemics, the report says, but human activities are to blame for disrupting ecosystems where pathogens are naturally held in balance.
The report concludes that societies can help avoid future pandemics by “promoting a transition to healthier and more sustainable and diverse diets, including responsible meat consumption.”
The report stops short of defining responsible or excessive meat consumption. The panel also calls for habitat protection, changes in land-use policy, incentives for companies to avoid activities and products that the panel says incur high pandemic-risk.
“Pandemic risk could be significantly lowered by promoting responsible consumption and reducing unsustainable consumption of commodities from emerging disease hotspots, and of wildlife and wildlife-derived products, as well as by reducing excessive consumption of meat from livestock production.”

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