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The meat industry could spawn the next pandemic, new report finds

The global meat industry is already a breeding ground for a future pandemic, according to a report released Tuesday by the investor network Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR).

The report found that lax safety protocol for food products and workers, overuse of antibiotics, and confinement of animals to close quarters help facilitate the transmission of viruses from animals to humans.

The analysis — which covered 60 of the world’s largest meat, dairy, and fish producers — revealed that 70% of such companies are at high risk for new infections. FAIRR is a London-based global group of investors concerned with environmental, social, and governance issues around protein supply chains.

Maria Lettini, FAIRR’s director, said that the meat industry was “ill-prepared” to deal with the risks of an animal-to-human virus.

Lettini told Digital Trends the coronavirus pandemic has “shed light on the interconnectedness of these risks” and that the sector’s lack of resilience under current conditions was unsurprising.

“We are just in the middle of a perfect storm right now,” she said, adding that management of these problems was “hugely financial material to their business.”

“If not managed well, the [protein] supply chain comes to a screeching halt, which we saw a few weeks ago,” she said.

‘We are just in the middle of a perfect storm right now.’

The report states that four of the biggest U.S. meat firms have lost 25% of their value since the onset of the coronavirus crisis. It also referred to livestock as one of the most precious global commodities.

Among the firms criticized are meat giants such as JBS in Brazil and Venky’s in India; both are suppliers for McDonald’s.

“Factory farming is both vulnerable to pandemics and guilty of creating them,” said Jeremy Coller, FAIRR’s founder and a private equity investor. “It’s a self-sabotaging cycle that destroys value and risks lives.”

Plant-based alternatives to meat have boomed in the recent crisis as the animal agriculture fell short on biosecurity and pandemic prevention measures, the report said.

The findings also attributed the increasing frequency of outbreaks, from SARS and H1N1 swine flu to MERS and COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, to the rise of factory farms.

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