A group of doctors urge people to go vegan and say the connection between disease outbreaks and factory farming is being ignored.
Plant Based Health Professionals (PBHP) warns that the meat consumption needs to be cut drastically to avoid a future global health crisis like the recent one caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus probably originated on the wet market in Wuhan where wild animals were kept and slaughtered for food. Scientists believe the virus transmitted to humans from bats through another animal host, possibly the pangolin.
The wet markets are also associated with the illegal trade of wild animals, which is a multi-million dollar business in China.
International organisations put pressure on China to ban wet markets to avoid future pandemics but UK doctors say the exploitation of disease-prone animals is not just a problem for China.
Most of the infectious diseases that appeared over the last century have been caused by tampering with farmed animals and their habitats. To cope with the demand for cheaper meat, animals in factory farms are kept in horrifying conditions. They are continuously treated with antibiotics and stay in tiny cages which provides perfect conditions for new infections with epidemic potential.
The doctors warn that another disease outbreak is inevitable if the people do not change their diet to plant-based.
Founder of PBHP and Consultant Haematologist at King’s College Hospital, Dr Shireen Kassam, told Metro: "The last 100 years have shown that pandemics will continue unless we change the way we eat and how our food is produced. Disease is spread predominantly through confinement; we don’t have the land capacity to feed the 8 billion people on this planet free range. We are in this race to find an antiviral, but other than HIV, there are very few viruses where there are very effective drugs available. [A vaccine] isn’t just going to save our problems; there is a risk of a mutation that could come back in a few years. We need to learn from our mistakes. We need to change our land use to grow beans and legumes; we need a system change."
Ending factory farming and reducing meat consumption would also improve overall public health.
The majority of adults in the UK suffer chronic health problems (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure) that are caused by unhealthy diets rich in meat, dairy and fat. Processed and unprocessed red meat is considered one of the most unhealthy foods. It is linked with the most significant increases in disease risk.
Recent studies show that whole food balanced vegan diet can provide all the nutrients the human body needs to be healthy.
Plant based diets are also better for our planet.
According to research conducted by the University of Oxford, healthy plant-based food (whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil) have the lowest impact on the environment.
Dr Kassam said: "As a nation, we need to reduce meat intake by 50% while at the same time increase the consumption of plant based foods by 100% to improve our health and to mitigate the effects of our diet on climate change. It’s become ingrained in our culture that we need meat to be at the centre of our meals, we need to re-evaluate that. If you have meat on your plate, it’s a choice you are making for the palette, not the nutrients. It should be seen as a condiment, not the main part."
She added: "One of the many lessons we are learning from the current Covid-19 pandemic is that people with underlying health conditions have a higher risk of requiring hospitalisation, admission to the ICU and ultimately of dying. In the UK, almost 90% of people who have died from the infection have at least one underlying health condition. We should therefore look to ensure that we improve overall public health and minimise the potential for underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, by opting for a predominantly whole food plant-based diet."
PBHP is an organisation led by doctors and health professionals that provide information on plant-based diets for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.
Dr Kassam says it is ‘outrageous’ that processed meat is served in cafes at NHS hospitals where doctors treat the diseases it causes.
"Change really needs to come from the top, through legislation, taxation and sensible subsidies. We are subsidising meat when we should be subsiding healthy food," she said.
"In the same way smoking was reduced through campaigns endorsed by public health and the government, it needs to be done with our diet. Public institutes and health professionals need to showcase a healthy diet. We should not be serving processed meat that causes cancer which we treat in hospitals."