The conventional wisdom is that harvesting wild animals for food is the route by which the coronavirus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic jumped from animals to humans.
Critics say it’s not the fault of the animals, but rather how humans behave.
Here’s term you should get to know: “emerging zoonotic diseases.”
These are diseases that originate in animals, and they account for sixty percent of all of humanity’s infectious diseases.
But where do the emerging viruses come from in the first place?
The question is urgent, given the devastating impacts on human health and the world economy caused by COVID-19.
It is still not clear that the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan was the original source of the novel coronavirus, since many of the first documented patients had no connection to the marketplace.
The virus’s DNA links it to bats — as well as to intermediate hosts such as the pangolin.
But why bats?
Researchers in Singapore suggest that bats’ unique evolutionary adaptations make them highly resistant to viruses — and bats carry rabies, Marburg, Ebola, several coronaviruses, and other deadly viral plagues.
The issue is now one of keeping bats away from animals — both domestic and wild — and keeping wild animals in particular away from people.
That won’t be easy.
Industrial food, vanishing habitat
Activists and researchers (who are sometimes the same people) say that the overarching causes of so many infections jumping to humans is the industrial food system, and habitat destruction.
The destruction of wild-animal habitat — by ranching, logging, mining, or even habitation — brings human beings directly into places where they were previously never found.
This creates ideal conditions for the spread of new diseases.
The industrial-scale farming of domestic livestock — as well as the sale of wild animals for “bushmeat,” medicine, and other uses — creates even more ways that wild-animal pathogens can jump to domestic animals, and then to human beings.
Activists say the solution is to rethink and retool our entire food system and its relationship to public health, animal welfare, and the ecosystems we all live in proximity to.