The last thing the world needs now, while many areas of the world are still closed and deaths are rising, is another pandemic. But it could possibly be what we’d get anyway.

The G4

There’s a looming pandemic threat from China: a new swine fly strain called G4 found in nasal swabs of pigs in 2011-2018 Chinese study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, conducted by Honglei Sun and colleagues.

G4 viruses “have all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” according to the above research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

There’s a mix of genes from pig, avian, and human viruses, and genes from the 2019 H1N1 fly pandemic virus. Because of its novelty, we don’t have immunity to it, and it’s too different from the seasonal flu for our vaccines to work against it.

G4 fast facts

  1. 10% of the swine industry’s workers in China who participated in the study have already been infected.
  2. As many as 4.4% of the general population has been exposed to the G4 viruses.
  3. The virus is highly infectious.
  4. It causes more serious symptoms in ferrets (who are abused for flu studies because of their meek nature and because they have flu symptoms similar to those of humans) than other viruses do.
  5. It can replicate in human cells.

There’s no evidence yet that the virus can be passed human to human – great for the general population, scary for those who regularly come in contact with pigs.

There’s also the possibility that it can eventually adapt and mutate to transfer from person to person.

The Response

World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that they would read the research, all the while stressing the importance of monitoring animal population, as mentioned in a 2020 article in The Guardian.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference that they were closely following developments and would take necessary measures to prevent an outbreak.

As for the rest of us, we’re still funding the primary cause of zoonotic diseases.

The pattern

Without a warning, we were thrown headfirst into a “new normal” where isolation is common, fear and uncertainty are on the rise, and sickness and death get decimated to statistics.

But was it really without warning?

COVID-19 and G4 are zoonotic, meaning they’re transmitted from animals to people – and they’re definitely not the first of their kind.

From Marburg and Ebola in 1967 and 1976, respectively, to the more recent SARS, A(H1N1), and COVID-19, Mother Nature has reminded us again and again about the consequences of our interference with nature and our abuse of non-human animals, as written by Alia Chughtai in a 2020 article for Al Jazeera. Yet, we’ve continued with our destructive practices and cruel eating habits.

Will she send us a reminder again soon?

The root cause

In an article by Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Diaz, Eduardo Brondizio, and Dr. Peter Daszak, published in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, experts wrote:

“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases.”

It’s no coincidence that the ground zero of COVID-19 was a wet market selling dead animals (from pigs and chicken to wildlife) and that G4 has been found in slaughterhouses.

The murder of animals and destruction of their natural habitats create an environment that makes a great melting pot for deadly viruses. In fact, biodiversity experts say there is one species responsible for the coronavirus pandemic: ours.

The effect of our food choices

While it’s been easy for many of us to frown upon the consumption of wild animals by other countries particularly China, it’s been difficult to assess our own eating habits. (And it’s a discussion that needs to happen if we don’t want a continuation – or, worse, a repeat – of this outbreak that just might bring about an apocalyptic nightmare. -Ed.)

Consumption of wildlife shouldn’t be tolerated, not before and not now during the sixth mass extinction. But this doesn’t excuse us from assessing our own eating habits as well.

Animal meat commonly consumed worldwide has brought upon their own set of deadly outbreaks.

  1. We’ve experienced swine flu and G4 looms over our heads.
  2. In 2003 and 2013, these were bird flu outbreaks.
  3. Animal agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation which exacerbates the spillover of diseases.
  4. Wet markets with dead animals (wildlife or not) are an ideal melting pot for viruses.

The big ask

If we stop exploiting animals, we give ourselves and our planet more chance to heal.

One virus closed most of the whole world, and another one threatens to come to the surface. We also have an impending climate crisis, one from which we can’t isolate ourselves.

The future is scary, but it doesn’t have to be. We can start with one small change: removing animals from our plates.

The better normal

During our fight against coronavirus, a healthy diet has been prescribed to boost our immune system. On their websites, both UNICEF and World Health Organization recommended increased consumption of plant-based food (fresh vegetables, fruits, and fiber) while reducing the intake of fat, commonly found in animal meat sources.

In pursuit of better health, environmental protection, and upholding animal rights, more and more individuals are seeing themselves thriving on a plant-based diet. In the United Kingdom, for example, the demand for animal meat-free food increased by an impressive 98% in 2017 alone, according to The Vegan Society.

But we don’t have to go far to look at how animal-free diets have enjoyed more popularity. In the Philippines, the Facebook group Manila Vegans has 43,999 members as of writing and continues to grow.

In fact, veganism has been receiving mainstream media attention in the Philippines. The latter’s Environmental Protection Bureau recently started campaigning for a plant-based diet.

In the United States, influential people, such as Bill Gates, Jay-Z, Serena Williams, Will.I.Am, Katy Perry, and many others are investing in plant-based food, as written by Kat Smith in a 2019 article for Live Kindly.

Removing animals from our plates stops the pandemic from its source. And if there will be an outbreak, a well-balanced, plant-based diet will give our bodies a better chance to thrive.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September-October 2020 issue.

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