President Trump has repeatedly referred to the Covid-19 virus as the “Chinese” virus. The media questioned him on whether he saw that as racist or not. His answer was “no” it wasn’t racist, “the virus came from China”. Although this virus originated in China, it could have come from anywhere, and that is what we wish he would recognize instead of simply putting the “China” label on it.
In reality, it is not the where, but the what. Language like this can inflame racism and prolongs solving the root of the problem: the wildlife trade and animal agriculture. This virus could have originated in any country that exploits and commodifies animals. Humanity as a whole owns this virus as we continually exploit animals via wildlife trade, factory farming, and overfishing. The latest information particular to Covid-19 is that it came from bats. You can watch this excellent clip from Richard Engle’s in-depth report which outlines the origins of the virus, and others before it. Also, 60 Minutes Australia did a comprehensive and must-watch piece on Covid-19 as it relates to live markets.
This is not the first killer virus to come from animals under stress and exploitation. The 1918’s influenza pandemic, which was an unusually deadly pandemic, originated from birds. 500 million people around the world were infected, or about 27% of the world population of between 1.8 and 1.9 billion. Estimates of people who died from the virus are 50-100 million people. It was the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus, with the second being the Swine Flu in 2009. Other highly contagious and deadly viruses that originated from animals are SARS, Bird Flu, and Ebola, to name a few.
Now, it is time we ask ourselves: what is the cost of ignoring this essential aspect of the Covid-19 story? Through our global collective willful ignorance, could we be setting the stage for something even deadlier?
What needs to be done immediately is to end all live animal markets around the world. President Trump and his administration need to work with world leaders to not only ban these markets, but to also clamp down on wildlife trafficking. Here in the United States, each state needs to take immediate action to outlaw live markets themselves. Secondly, we must begin to move away from our factory farming system which is a breeding ground for deadly viruses and antibacterial resistant strains of bacteria.
Recently, coast to coast activists have rallied to shut down New York City’s 85 live animal markets and west coast live markets in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland, given that Covid-19 started at a live market. Yet, inexplicably, no media reported on these protests. Why are we ignoring the root cause of this pandemic? The real story is the abuse of animals in our food system. This systemic abuse is at the heart of the global debacle that is fast destroying our economy and climate, killing a growing number of people, and forcing millions of others to live in miserable isolation. This is, indeed, mother nature’s revenge. Not our phrase. That’s how an expert in zoonotic diseases described it.
Recently the New York Post did an investigative story about live meat markets just like the one in Wuhan, China, where this pandemic began. Here is their description of the average “live market,” aka a meat market. “In stall after stall, a mix of live and dead animals, which run the gamut from the known (pig, ox, duck, chicken) to the rare or unknown due to the condition of the carcass — stare back at you. In the wet areas of the market — usually reserved for fish and sea creatures and where the ground is slick with water and often blood — the stink is worse. The animals that have not yet been dispatched by the butcher’s knife make desperate bids to escape by climbing on top of each other and flopping or jumping out of their containers (to no avail). At least in the wet areas, the animals don’t make a sound. The screams from mammals and fowl are unbearable and heartbreaking.” Thanks to the New York Post for acknowledging the suffering of the animals involved.
Why are we not hearing similar, accurate descriptions from news anchors at the major networks? To talk about a global pandemic without consistently discussing its origins is like holding a murder trial and rarely mentioning the defendant. It’s irresponsible. Except for some great special reports by NBC’s Richard Engel and 60 Minutes Australia, the news media continues to dance around the primary issue at the heart of this mind-boggling catastrophe, the likes of which we have never seen. News hosts question expert panel after expert panel, without ever having a full-blown conversation about the horrific conditions at these markets and how meat markets are a global phenomenon and, therefore, a global problem.
It is time we start talking about the origin of this virus, not just the country it came from… and more importantly, do something about it. Otherwise, Covid-19 is just another name on a list of the ever-growing pandemic viruses we could have prevented. Whose fault is it? All of ours, for ignoring the facts in front of us and allowing it to continue. Together, let’s not just flatten the curve, or find the next vaccine. Let’s solve this existential threat to our humanity.