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- Worldwide adherence to veganism would not eradicate pandemics. There are other sources by which disease can emerge — and consuming animals is not the only path by which disease can make the jump from animals to humans.
It’s been just over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic spawned mass shutdowns and exploded into the public consciousness, and scientists still don’t fully understand the origins of the disease that has killed millions around the world.
Electronica easy-listening pop artist Richard Melville Hall — known professionally as Moby — suggested in a Facebook post that all of this could have been avoided if humans did not consume animals:
"In a vegan world there would be no pandemics. 100% of pandemics are zoonotic in origin," his March 23 post read.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Is he right? In short, no — and for some of the same reasons we found a similar claim specific to COVID-19 Mostly False. We reached out to Moby’s representatives through email but did hear back.
While scientists have found that most human infectious diseases originate with animals — and, yes, all pandemics in the last 100 years fall into this category — it’s not accurate to say that they would be eliminated if humans did not eat other animals. There are other means by which a disease can move from animal to human. Likewise, there are other ways a disease could emerge and become a pandemic.
With COVID-19, scientists largely agree that the novel coronavirus likely originated in a bat, but by the same token they also agree that an intermediary host would have been necessary for the virus to be transmitted to a human — and we still don't know what that intermediary source is. Therefore, "patient zero" almost certainly did not contract COVID-19 by consuming a bat.
Moby’s broader claim suggests that any pandemic would not exist if the world’s population practiced veganism, the practice of not eating or using animal products.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disease is "zoonotic" if it can be spread from animals to humans.
"Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi," CDC’s guidance reads. "These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals, ranging from mild to serious illness and even death."
Zoonotic diseases, or "zoonoses," are extremely common considering they comprise at least 60% of known infectious diseases. Additionally, the CDC notes, roughly 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases are known to come from animals. But a pandemic can also evolve from sources beyond wildlife.
"Most human infectious diseases find their origin in another animal species," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. "However, there are environmentally acquired infectious diseases such as anthrax, tetanus, and botulism. However, these tend to be non-communicable between person to person and therefore not able to cause a pandemic."
"It is within the realm of possibility that an environmental fungus, for example, could infect a large amount of humans," Adalja said. "In amphibian species, for instance, environmental fungal disease (e.g. chytrid disease) are pandemics. One could also envision a stable human pathogen, by chance, acquiring some new trait allowing it to spread in a new manner. "
In a recent interview with the online news magazine Inverse published March 24, Adalja also pushed back directly on Moby’s claim.
Adalja told the publication that a determining factor in which a zoonotic illness becomes a pandemic has less to do with animal consumption and more to do with how humans generally interact with animals since there are other ways beyond consumption an animal-borne pathogen can be transmitted.
"You can get bitten by a raccoon and get rabies," Adalja said in the interview, "not because you were going to eat it, but just because you happened to encounter it in the wild."
Moby said, "In a vegan world there would be no pandemics. 100% of pandemics are zoonotic in origin."
Scientists have found that the pandemics of the last 100 years have been zoonotic. And they say that most infectious disease in humans originates with animals. But that does not mean that worldwide adherence to veganism would eradicate pandemics. There are other sources by which disease can emerge — and consuming animals is not the only path by which disease can make the jump from animals to humans.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this Mostly False.
PolitiFact, "Vegan Instagram accounts spread misinformation about COVID-19," March 18, 2020
Johns Hopkins University, COVID-19 Dashboard,., accessed March 25, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 and Animals,", accessed March 25, 2021
World Health Organization, "Zoonoses," accessed March 25, 2021
The Lancet, "Prediction and Prevention of the Next Pandemic Zoonosis ," in The Lancet accessed via Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection, December 1, 2012. Accessed March 25, 2021
Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Analysis of Possible Intermediate Hosts of the New Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, Yuan, S., Jiang, S. C., & Li, Z. L, June 9, 2020
Inverse, Does Eating Meat Cause Pandemics?, March 24, 2021
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