What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Imprisoned chicken with eyes closed
Photo credit: Vancouver Chicken Save.

By Karen Davis, PhD,
President, United Poultry Concerns

“Share the fact that you are an animal lover.”
– Advice to farmers depopulating their animals.

There’s love and there’s “love.” There’s humane and “humane.” There’s euthanasia and “euthanasia.” There’s euphemism.

According to Merriam-Webster, “Euphemism derives from the Greek word euphēmos, which means ‘auspicious’ or ‘sounding good.’ The first part of ‘euphēmos’ is the Greek prefix eu-, meaning ‘well.’ The second part is ‘phēmē,’ a Greek word for ‘speech’ that is itself a derivative of the verb phanai, meaning ‘to speak.’ Among the numerous linguistic cousins of ‘euphemism’ on the ‘eu-’ side of the family are ‘eulogy,’ ‘euphoria,’ and ‘euthanasia’; on the ‘phanai’ side, its kin include ‘prophet’ and ‘aphasia’ (‘loss of the power to understand words’).”

Speaking of farmed animals, euphemism is the cover-up equivalent of the mass burials of these animals in the ground or the stomach – their “euthanasia.” Call it collusion, conspiracy, complacency or corruption, a pact between agribusiness and the major news media guarantees that the animals will not truly be seen, heard or empathized with. A stock photo or video clip of a piglet “nursery,” a “meatpacking” plant or a “poultry processing” plant does not enlighten a public content to let industry and the media interpret the meaning of these images. See, for example, Meat Plant Closures Mean Pigs Are Gassed or Shot Instead and Millions of Pigs Will Be Euthanized As Pandemic Cripples Meatpacking Plants.

Though current society seems to have forgotten that the word “euthanasia” means, literally, a good death, or to die well – exemplifying a “loss of the power to understand words” – there’s a kind of implicit social agreement that this term can magically relieve us of culpability for inflicting horrible death and atrocity on innocent nonhuman creatures.

Yet there is awareness of the real meaning of euthanasia, as is evident in the fact that we do not call mass-killing, live burial, suffocation, throat-cutting, gassing, paralytic electric shock and the like “euthanasia” in the case of ourselves. Speciesism is not a mere abstract concept. It’s the wellspring of our attitude toward nonhuman animals. It determines the fate we subject them to and our language of justification.

I’ll wager that once the coronavirus news cycle has passed, the sympathetic attention being paid by the media to the plight of “meatpackers” will dissipate. For the animals, nothing will change, since the major media have shown them no mercy, compassion or acknowledgement to begin with. The occasional op-ed or letter to the editor expressing sorrow for our animal victims is overwhelmed by the standardized coverage. An example of the rare exception is Our Cruel Treatment of Animals Led to the Coronavirus.

An article in the Progressive FarmerHard Decisions: How Consumers View Mass Depopulation, in which I’m cited, draws attention away from the euphemistic use of the word “euthanasia” as a synonym for the mass-extermination of “livestock,” focusing instead on how to manage the negative publicity of “mass depopulation.” An industry representative is quoted: “producers should expect to see visuals hitting the news and social media that will be shocking.”

Actually, this prediction is what has not happened. Farmers needn’t worry that the major news media will blow their cover. Or that “visuals,” if shown, would shock a public worried about having enough “meat” on the table – a worry amped up by the media. As for social media, these outlets seem mainly to attract those who already care strongly one way or the other.

So what’s a farmer to do? Advises the industry representative: “It’s okay to share that this is an incredible crisis for you and your family just like it is for families all around the world. Share the fact that you are an animal lover and have dedicated your life to spending more time with animals than humans. Remind people you are just one person in a community of farmers all dealing with this heartbreaking reality.”

But what, for the farmer, is the “crisis,” the “heartbreaking reality”? It can’t be what the animals are being put through, since for them a terrible death and its attendant pain and terror await regardless. More to the point, the “crisis” is the loss of income, the “waste” and disposal of animals whose purpose, from the farming perspective, is to become a marketable product.

Imprisoned chicken
Photo credit: Vancouver Chicken Save.

Back in the days when I attended farm animal “welfare” conferences, I used to wonder, listening to the speakers and watching their slides, “Do they honestly, personally believe that the filthy, cobwebby, manure-filled buildings, cages and related contrivances of cruelty to chickens constitute welfare?” To what extent, I wondered, did self-deception figure in the professional deception that relies on euphemisms, including that the captive birds are “happy,” “content,” and “singing,” and that farmers “care” about their animals above the bottom line.

Currently, some animal advocates seek to turn agribusiness adversaries into allies in an effort to change the chicken industry from maniacally cruel to marginally kinder. The ultimate goal of this undertaking is to reverse the business of transforming plants into “chicken” by transforming “chicken,” so to speak, into plants. Real chickens in this remake no longer figure in the plant-based version of themselves or in the cellular meat version either.

This reminds me a little, inversely, of how in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, people seek to transform the goddesses of vengeance and retribution, known as the Erinyes or Furies, by giving them the euphemistic name Eumenides, meaning “the Kindly Ones.” A thing to remember about the Furies, though, is that they personify guilt and the pursuit of justice in the wake of murder and other crimes, so transforming them into “the Kindly Ones” amounts to a euphemistic subterfuge to avoid moral reckoning.

The carefully constructed obliteration of our animal victims from the coronavirus coverage shows how casually we turn our Furies into “Kindly Ones” where other species are concerned. In this instance, “the Kindly Ones” function as a disabled conscience. With our words of commission and omission we muzzle our guilt – the condition of guilt we refuse to feel. The animals are being euthanized – put to sleep – so we can rest easy and return to normal.

https://upc-online.org/slaughter/200519_whats_love_got_to_do_with_it.html

“Hard Decisions: How Consumers View Mass Depopulation,” Progressive Farmer,

 May 4, 2020

“Many opposed to animal agriculture are vigorously attacking the idea of euthanasia of livestock, hoping awareness created now of how production animals are depopulated will move forward their agendas in the years to come. Karen Davis, president of Virginia’s United Poultry Concerns (UPC) told this reporter she is vehemently opposed to even the use of the word ‘euthanasia’ in response to the current situation.”

Read the article here:
How Consumers View Mass Depopulation.

This article reflects aspects of a phone interview with UPC president, Karen Davis, conducted by Progressive Farmer reporter Victoria G. Myers, on April 29, 2020. The interview was prompted by UPC’s News Release:

“Depopulation” of Poultry Does Not Mean “Humanely Killed.”

The article shifts focus to how farmers and ranchers view mass depopulation, and how farmers should manage public perception with stories about their suffering, including sharing that “you are an animal lover.”

Chickens in trash dead and alive.
Unwanted chickens are “euthanized” routinely by the poultry & egg industries.
Photo by Mercy For Animals

Hindustan Times Article Supports International Respect for Chickens Day!

Hindustan Times, a leading national news daily in India, has published an article in the May 2 edition, It is time to rethink the way humans treat animals.

From the moment they are born, these birds spend all their lives in total confinement. 
      Broiler chickens are born in large incubators with hundreds of others; crammed into small, often filthy spaces
From the moment they are born, these birds spend all their lives in total confinement. Broiler chickens are born in large incubators with hundreds of others; crammed into small, often filthy spaces. (Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

https://upc-online.org/respect/200503_hindustan_times_article_supports_international_respect_for_chickens_day.html

The article begins:

“On May 4 each year, since 2005, a non-profit in the United States (US) called United Poultry Concerns celebrates International Respect for Chickens Day. It spreads the message that we need to rethink how we treat all food animals, especially chickens, since poultry is the most consumed meat in the world.

“The rest of the world needs to join them in celebrating May 4 as International Chicken Day. . . .”

Read the full article here: It is time to rethink the way humans treat animals.

Unfortunately, the article does not promote a plant-based alternative to chicken consumption, even suggesting that chickens “sacrifice” themselves for low-cost animal protein. Fortunately, the writer emphasizes the suffering, sensitivity and intelligence of chickens, and we are grateful for that.

UPC thanks Vegan India for bringing this timely coverage to our attention.

To learn more about International Respect for Chickens Day & how YOU can help chickens in May and every day, visit:

International Respect for Chickens Day

2 million chickens will be killed in Delaware and Maryland because of lack of employees at processing plants

https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/25/us/chickens-depopulated-delmarva-plants-delaware-maryland/index.html

By Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, CNN

(CNN)Two million chickens on several farms in Delaware and Maryland will be “depopulated” — meaning humanely killed — due to a lack of employees at chicken processing plants, according to a statement from Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.

The reduced employee attendance at the company’s plants is a result of “additional community cases of COVID-19, additional testing, and people practicing the ‘stay home if you’re sick’ social distancing guidance from public health officials,” the statement reads.
The chickens will be depopulated “using approved, humane methods” that are accepted by the American Veterinary Medical Association and all state and local guidelines, the company said.
CNN has reached out to the Delaware Department of Agriculture but has not yet received a response.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture says it learned of the company’s plans on April 9 and “continues to monitor for any developments.”
“MDA is only involved in depopulations when it is done in response to animal health concerns,” the department said in a statement. “This particular case was a private decision made by an individual business.”
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Delmarva says it made the “difficult but necessary” decision after exhausting “the study of other alternatives, including allowing another chicken company to transport and process the chickens and taking a partially processed product to rendering facilities to utilize for other animal feed.”
“If no action were taken, the birds would outgrow the capacity of the chicken house to hold them,” the company said, adding that they are not closing any processing plants and will continue to compensate the affected chicken growers.
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There’s a Bigger, Scarier Public Health Crisis Skulking Behind COVID-19

ttps://www.peta.org/blog/wet-markets-factory-farms/
Published  by Katherine Sullivan.

Can you tell the difference between these scared chickens in cramped, filthy cages …

chickens wet market

… and these forced to live alongside dead and dying cagemates?

chickens small cage dead cagemates

The chickens directly above were kept at a filthy egg factory farm in Oklahoma, while the ones above them were being sold at a blood-soaked “wet market” in Thailand—not that there’s much difference. And all these birds suffered immensely—slaughtered chickens at a wet market in the Philippines …

Vendor chops newly-delivered chicken carcasses at a wet market in Taipei.© Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

… and birds at a Tyson Foods slaughterhouse, whose throats were manually cut by a worker because the mechanical blade missed them:

covid-19 slaughterhouse concerns

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a wet market, a traditional factory farm, a “free-range” farm, an “organic” farm, or any other animal agriculture operation—humans’ appetite for flesh and other animal-derived foods is killing more than the meat industry’s intended victims.

Wet Markets vs. Factory Farms: Which Are Worse?

Most people are now familiar with wet markets (also sometimes referred to as “live-animal markets”)—one where live and dead animals are sold for human consumption—and their connection to the dry cough heard ’round the world. Experts believe that the novel coronavirus originated at a wet market in Wuhan, China. But while bats and pangolins (who hitch rides on their mothers’ tails as pups in nature) are the suspected reservoir species for COVID-19, deadly outbreaks like mad cow disease, avian flu, swine flu, and other zoonotic diseases have stemmed from farming domesticated (not wild or exotic) animals for food. Even more recent than the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. is an avian flu (aka “bird flu”) outbreak in South Carolina—a week ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that highly pathogenic H7N3 avian influenza was identified among turkeys being raised for food. This strain reportedly mutated from a low pathogenic strain that had been previously identified in poultry in the same area.

JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T SHOP AT A WET MARKET DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU’RE SAFE FROM ZOONOTIC VIRUSES … OR ANTIBIOTIC-RESISTANT BACTERIA.

Farms crammed full of stressed animals are breeding grounds for deadly pathogens, including influenza viruses, which have originated in chickens and pigs. It’s these crowded, filthy conditions that breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, too, also known as “superbugs.”

Why should you care about antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

When you get sick, the antibiotics prescribed by your doctor may not work because of the emergence of superbugs. On farms across the U.S., the antibiotics that we depend on to treat human infections are now used to keep cows, pigs, chickens, and others alive in horrific conditions that would otherwise kill them and to fatten them before slaughter.

COUNTLESS NEW STRAINS OF ANTIBIOTIC-RESISTANT BACTERIA HAVE DEVELOPED AS A RESULT OF THIS ABUSIVE PRACTICE.

Antibiotic use is now more common on farm prisons than in human medicine. Roughly 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals on farms, who are likely now the largest source of drug-resistant bacteria. Nearly 80% of all meat found in U.S. grocery stores contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the Environmental Working Group.

raw meat supermarket

Findings indicate that these drug-resistant genes spread more extensively and quickly on farms than scientists previously thought. Researchers sounded the alarm on the meat industry, which has tried to downplay the concerns raised by experts, apparently deliberately putting the public at risk in order to protect its own interests. One infectious disease physician who studies antibiotic-resistant pathogens, James Johnson, likened the animal agriculture industry and its practice of “subverting public health” to the tobacco industry.

What about “antibiotic-free” labels?

Just like “organic,” “free-range,” and “cage-free” labels, “antibiotic-free” labels mean nothing to animals and are misleading to consumers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admits that the “antibiotic-free” label is not approved by the USDA and that it “has no clear meaning.” Furthermore, “antibiotic-free” meat is not necessarily free of antibiotic-resistant bacteria: “All animals carry bacteria in their gut, and some of these can be resistant germs,” the CDC website warns.

THINGS FOR ANIMALS ON FARMS—AND FOR THE HUMANS WHO EAT THEM—ARE ONLY EXPECTED TO GET WORSE.

The United Nations has called the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs “the biggest threat to modern medicine.” It’s anticipated that by 2050, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will kill one person every three seconds. In fact, some studies claim that by this time, more people will be dying of antibiotic-resistant diseases than of heart disease—which is the number one killer of humans in the world and kills one person every 37 seconds in the U.S. alone.

pig cage filthy farm

We’ve already seen these superbugs manifest in the form of global health pandemics. The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, for example, only saw humans infected, but the virus included genes from humans, birds, and pigs—it was a “quadruple-reassortant virus,” meaning that it contained genes from four different influenza virus sources. To put it simply, if there were no animal agriculture, it’s likely that neither “classical swine H1N1” viruses nor the 2009 H1N1 flu virus (which reportedly infected roughly 1.4 billion people and killed between 151,700 and 575,400 worldwide) would have existed.

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID FARM-TO-TABLE PANDEMICS IS FOR EVERYONE TO GO VEGAN AND SHUT DOWN ANIMAL-FARMING OPERATIONS.

So while we should certainly call for a global ban on wet markets …

DISEASE-PRONE WET MARKETS HAVE GOT TO GO

… we should also crack down on all other industries that abuse, neglect, and slaughter animals. We can’t afford to wait for the next H1N1 flu or coronavirus. Please, ban meateggs, and dairy from your plate—before the next deadly zoonotic disease hits:

AVOID MEAT LIKE THE PLAGUE IT IS

Infections are straining meat processing plants

Coronavirus is infecting employees at the nation’s meat processing plants, raising fears of a strain in the food supply.
In Georgia, three employees at a Tyson Foods plant have died from coronavirus, and several others are sick or in quarantine, according to the Retail, Warehouse and Department Store Union.
“Workers debone chickens elbow to elbow with no access to masks. They work at speeds of upwards of 80 chickens per minute,” the Union said.
It accused Tyson of delaying distribution of personal protective equipment to workers, and implementation of measures such as social distancing protocols, protective barriers and staggered start times and breaks. CNN has reached out to Tyson Foods for comment.
And in South Dakota, more than half of the 143 new cases of coronavirus in the state are linked to the Smithfield Foods plant, one of the nation’s largest pork processing facilities, the state’s health department said.

New bird flu spreading in China could jump to humans, scientists warn

Two new types of bird flu infections currently spreading in China could jump to humans threatening global health, scientists warn.

The avian influenza virus subtype H16N3, first identified in 1975 and currently detectable among wild birds in many countries, has so far not posed a threat to humans so far.

But a team of researchers from State Key Laboratory of Veterinary Biotechnology in Harbin, China, have isolated two H16N3 subtype influenza viruses that can bind to both human and avian-type cell receptors, according to findings published in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases[1].

The team led by Li Yulei also found evidence that genetic material from other species has been introduced into the H16N3 avian influenza virus, which suggests that it may infect other species and could therefore pose a threat to animal and human health in the future.

The findings come after the scientists carried out extensive surveillance of the H16N3 subtype of bird flu in large gatherings of wild birds in China from 2017 to 2019.

“Segments from other species have been introduced into the H16N3 avian influenza virus, which may alter its pathogenicity and host tropism, potentially posing a threat to animal and human health in the future,” the researchers wrote. “Consequently, it is necessary to increase monitoring of the emergence and spread of avian influenza subtype H16N3 in wild birds.”

Animal influenza viruses are distinct from human seasonal flu viruses and do not easily spread from human to human.

But some zoonotic influenza viruses – animal influenza viruses that have jumped species and infect humans – cause disease in people ranging from a mild illness to death.

The most recent case of a zoonotic virus is the SAR-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, and has spread worldwide so far infecting 1.8 million people and claiming more than 113,000 lives[2].

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy and overwhelmed healthcare systems in a number of countries including the United States.

China has emerged as ground zero for zoonotic pandemic outbreaks due to the prevalence of so-called wet markets where live animals – including endangered wild species – are sold for food.

The A(H5N1) virus spread around the world following a bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong, China in 1997 and human infections with the influenza A(H7N9) virus were reported in China in 2013, according to the World Health Organization [3].
While Hong Kong has taken steps to tackle the avian influenza in the Special Administrative Region’s wet markets, multiple different subtypes of avian influenza (H1N1, H2N9, H3N2, H3N3, H3N6, and H4N6) continue to circulate in live-poultry markets in mainland China[4].

The mortality rate of bird flu is estimated to be 60% making it at least ten times more lethal than COVID-19.

Birth of a Baby Chicken: An Easter Story

United Poultry Concerns <http://www.UPC-online.org>
11 April 2020

*By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns*

INSIDE THE EGG

If the egg has been fertilized, a tiny being is growing inside, whether
nestled
beneath the mother hen or crammed in an incubator among thousands of other
embryos. During the first 24 hours after the egg is laid, the tiny heart
starts
beating and blood vessels begin to form, joining the embryo and the yoke sac
that will nourish the embryo as it grows.

The nervous system originates during the 21st hour of incubation, followed
by
origination of the head and eyes. Other body parts begin to develop during
this
time, including the alimentary tract and the spinal column. On the third
day,
the embryo begins to rotate to lie on its left side. By the fourth day, all
body
organs are present, with the nose, legs, wings, and tongue taking shape and
the
vascular system in place.

On the fifth day, the reproductive organs differentiate and the face begins
to
assume a lifelike appearance. On the sixth day, the beak and the egg tooth
(a
kind of rough edge that disappears after hatching, which protects the beak
and
also helps crack the shell) can be seen, along with some voluntary
movements of
the embryo.

During the next seven days, the body develops rapidly, including the
formation
of the abdomen and intestines. Feather germs, the origin of feather tracts,
appear, the beak begins to harden, toes and leg scales start to show, the
skeleton begins to calcify, and chick down appears.

On the fourteenth day, the embryo, now covered with down, rotates to arrange
itself parallel to the long axis of the egg, normally with its head toward
the
large end of the egg near the air cell. On the seventeenth day, the chick
turns
its head, placing its beak under its right wing toward the lower part of the
enlarged air cell to prepare for hatching and breathing outside the shell.

HATCHING

On the nineteenth day, the yoke sac begins to enter the chick’s body
through the
umbilicus, and the chick positions itself for pipping the shell, that is,
for
making a hole in the shell to breathe through while struggling to get out.
On
the twentieth day, the yolk sac completes it absorption into the body
cavity and
the umbilicus begins to close. By now, the chick occupies the entire area
within
the shell except the air cell, which it now begins to penetrate with its
beak,
inhaling outside air through its lungs for the first time.

After pipping the shell to reach the air cell, the chick rests for several
hours. It then cuts a circular line counterclockwise around the shell by
striking the shell with its egg tooth near the large end of the egg, aided
by a
special pipping muscle in its neck which helps it to force its beak through
the
membranes lining the shell.

With the egg tooth, the chick saws its way out of the shell, aided by the
mother
hen if she is there and help is needed. Between 10 and 20 hours after the
shell
is first broken, the chick emerges, wet and exhausted, to face the life
ahead.

Nearly two days may pass between the hatching of the first chick and the
appearance of the last member of the brood. Thus, some chicks may be almost
two
days old by the time all of their sisters and brothers have struggled from
their
shells, as many as 16 others. However, hatching is not a haphazard process.

About 24 hours before the chick is ready to hatch, it starts peeping in its
shell to notify its mother and siblings that it is ready to emerge. A
communication network is established among the chicks, and between the
chicks
and their mother, who must stay composed while all the peeping, sawing, and
egg-breaking goes on underneath her. Since some eggs may be infertile or
aborted, the peeps tell the hen how long she needs to continue sitting on
the
nest.

MOTHER HEN AND HER CHICKS

As soon as all the eggs are hatched, the hungry mother and her brood go
forth
eagerly to eat, drink, scratch the soil, and explore. Baby chicks are
precocial,
meaning they are genetically equipped to find food and follow their own
kind, or
whoever is in charge, in the process known as imprinting. By imprinting,
chicks
learn the features of their mother hen and siblings, to insure their
survival.
They practice hygiene by preening their feathers and dustbathing almost
immediately.

The chicks venture fairly far away from their mother, communicating back and
forth all the while with clucks and peeps. The hen keeps track of her little
ones on the basis of color, possibly also by smell, and by counting the
peeps of
each chick and noting the emotional tones of their voices. Periodically she
squats down, and the chicks dash under her outspread feathers where they
stay
until they are thoroughly warmed before dashing out again.

Should a peep be missing or sound frightened, she runs to find the chick and
deliver it – not always successfully – from the hole in the ground, tangled
foliage, or threatening predator.

During the first four to eight weeks or so, the chicks stay close to their
mother, gathering beneath her wings every night at dusk. Eventually, she
flies
up to her perch, indicating her sense that they, and she, are ready for
independence.

Young chicks without their mother huddle together at night for the first
month
or two. Then one evening, you see them practicing sitting in a row, before
huddling. Then comes an evening when they are lined up on their perch,
arranging
and rearranging themselves as before, only this time they stay lined up all
night, henceforth roosting like the adults.

KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a
nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful
treatment
of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted
into
the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to
Animal
Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and
campaigns. Her latest book is *For the Birds: From Exploitation to
Liberation:*
*Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl* (Lantern Books,
2019).

Amazon Reviews Praise FOR THE BIRDS: FROM EXPLOITATION TO LIBERATION
<https://www.upc-online.org/bookreviews/190716_amazon_reviews_praise_for_the_birds.html>
by Karen Davis, PhD.
<https://www.upc-online.org/bookreviews/190716_amazon_reviews_praise_for_the_birds.html>

*Order Now!* <https://www.upc-online.org/merchandise/book.html#ftb>


United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes
the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl.
Don’t just switch from beef to chicken. Go Vegan.
http://www.UPC-online.org/ http://www.twitter.com/upcnews
http://www.facebook.com/UnitedPoultryConcerns

View this article online
<https://upc-online.org/education/200411_birth_of_a_baby_chicken-an_easter_story.html>

Surely the link between abusing animals and the world’s health is now clear

The boast that “when the facts change, I change my mind” is a proud one. “When the facts change, I reinforce my prejudices” is truer. If you want proof, look at the coronavirus that has changed everything and consider the undisputed fact that it spread because of humanity’s abuse of animals.

Imagine a world where facts changed minds. The United Nations, governments and everyone with influence would now be saying we should abandon meat or at a minimum cut down on consumption. Perhaps my reading is not as wide as it should be, but I have heard nothing of the sort argued. Making the case would be child’s play and would not be confined to emphasising that Covid-19 probably jumped species in Wuhan’s grotesque wet markets. The Sars epidemic of 2002-04 began in Guangdong, probably in bats, and then spread to civet cats, sold in markets and eaten in restaurants. The H7N9 strain of bird flu began in China, once again, and moved to humans from diseased poultry.

China is a viral petri dish because the Communist party silences voices that warn of danger, as the heroic doctor Li Wenliang found. Centuries of imperial and socialist dictatorship have taught people to respect the adage “The shot hits the bird that pokes its head out”. Repression combines with folk beliefs in the medicinal power of animal carcasses, a deadly quackery that the world’s fastest growing middle class has the money to indulge. Bats, which may be the original source of coronavirus as well as Sars, are meant to restore eyesight. The palm civet is devoured as a sham cure for insomnia.

A health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Pinterest
 A health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Photograph: Olivia Acland/Reuters

Yet it is too comfortable to damn the Chinese Communist party, essential though that task is. Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) originated in the Middle East, as its name suggests, and came to humans via camels. Ebola began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was probably caught from gorillas and chimpanzees. Diseases have always jumped species, but the Covid-19 pandemic may be a sign of an ominous acceleration. A paper this month in the Proceedings of the Royal Society suggests the rate of new infections could be rising as humans cram into every corner of the planet. The loss of habitat and the exploitation of wildlife through hunting and trade increased the risk of infectious “spillover”, it said. Ferocious punishments for the use of “exotic” animals for food and medicines are required. Once again, though, that is too easy a slogan for people in the west to chant and feel virtuous as they chant it. We should be examining our own diets.

If antibiotic resistance continues to grow, we may look back on the deaths of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, and say: “Really? Was that all?” Resistance could end the age of medical progress, returning humanity to a time when minor injuries and routine operations could be fatal. The over-prescription of antibiotics to humans explains in part why bacteria are evolving to resist it, and why researchers are predicting 10 million deaths a year from antibiotic resistance by 2050. Antibiotic use in the intensive and unfathomably cruel production of meat is as pernicious. Factory farming strains animal health. Breeding sows that are not given enough time to recover before being impregnated again, and chickens in crowded cages suffering from heat stress that brings salmonella and E coli, need repeated doses. In 2012, when the then chief medical officer, Sally Davies, warned that antibiotics were losing their “effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible”, she compared the looming health crisis to global warming. To make her comparison complete, we can add that meat eating does indeed contribute disproportionately to the production of greenhouse gasses.

Ban the use of antibiotics in farming, then. Treat meat, cow milk and cheese as we treat tobacco and alcohol and hit them with punitive taxes. Make the illegal trade in wild animals as great a crime as the illegal trade in weapons.

However rational such stirring declarations may be, I feel I am no longer connected to myself or the world around me when I issue them. I am not a vegan. If changing facts changed minds, I should become one – as should you, in all likelihood. Even if individuals change, the dominant culture makes demands for society to change appear ridiculously utopian. Imagine a politician campaigning for stiff restrictions on meat consumption. Critics would accuse him or her of punishing the poor – for people who barely think of the poor always invoke them when their pleasures are threatened. They would be damned for wanting to ban the good old Sunday lunch and the joy a Big Mac brings. Our grandchildren may look back and find our abuse of animals incomprehensible. For the moment, arguments to stop abuse provoke incomprehension.

Rather than change minds, the corona crisis is cementing them. No one knows its political and cultural consequences, only that there will be consequences. Ignorance has not stopped Jeremy Corbyn saying the pandemic proved his socialism was “absolutely right” and Nigel Farage saying that, on the contrary, it showed he was right about free movement being doomed. Trump blames China. China blames America. In other words, they are all saying and doing what they would have said and done if the virus had never jumped the species barrier and no one outside China had heard of Wuhan’s wet markets.

Today’s suffering dominates our thoughts, but beneath it two explanations of human behaviour are competing. Optimists believe that governments and peoples will adapt to new circumstances and recognise new realities. We will soon learn if they are right.

The great physicist Max Planck put the pessimistic case in 1950. A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, he said. Rather, “its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”.

Planck’s admirers condensed his argument into a phrase that is a little too resonant today: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

 Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist