After the death of a 12-year-old child in Kerala from Nipah virus and other Nipah infections of health-care workers in the state, PETA India sent a letter to Smt J Chinchurani, Kerala’s minister for animal husbandry and dairy development. We urged her to close down pig farms in the state to prevent further spread of the infection and a potential pandemic. Our request comes within two months of the placement of a warning billboard in Delhi about the meat industry’s link to the spread of bird flu. There, an 11-year-old boy had succumbed to complications from H5N1 bird flu, an infection with a 60% mortality rate, in July.
As the World Organization for Animal Health warns, Nipah virus is highly contagious in pigs and has devastating zoonotic potential, meaning that it can infect humans from other animals. It was first observed in farmed pigs in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 and 1999 and resulted in 257 cases of febrile encephalitis, including 100 deaths, as of 27 April 1999 in Malaysia alone. Most human cases were found to have been caused by exposure to pig farms. The pigs in Malaysia had become infected by bats who were attracted to nearby fruit trees. PETA India warns that the farmed pig population in Kerala could easily become infected with the Nipah virus through native fruit bat droppings or saliva.
As a result of the killing of wildlife and intensive animal farming practices, zoonotic diseases have caused outbreaks or pandemics in recent years. These include the deadly H1N1 swine flu, which humans contracted from farmed pigs, and COVID-19, believed by most scientists to have spread from a live-animal market in China, as well as other poor health outcomes. The World Health Organization warns, “Over 30 new human pathogens have been detected in the last three decades, 75% of which have originated in animals.” Numerous zoonotic diseases, including the Nipah virus, which has an estimated fatality rate of 40% to 75% in humans, prove that crowding animals together for rearing or slaughter allows diseases to spread among them and to humans easily.
In addition to helping to prevent the spread of diseases, meat-free meals spare animals immense suffering. In today’s meat industry, billions of animals are raised inside vast warehouses in severe confinement and their throats are often cut while they’re still conscious.