Tag Archives: coronavirus

Factory farming seen to trigger next global pandemic: choose plant-based meat alternatives to reduce the threat

First published in South China Morning Post.

  • Experts say the next pandemic will be a bird flu, H7N9, which so far has killed 40 per cent of people infected, making it 100 times deadlier than Covid-19 virus.
  • It will start in battery chicken farms, so consuming less cheap, factory-farmed meat and eggs and eating more plant-based alternatives can help head it off.

At the online PlantFit Summit this month, 38 of the world’s health experts weighed in on how to improve our health and well-being by adopting a more plant-based diet.

Opening the summit was US doctor Dr Michael Greger, The New York Times bestselling author of How Not to Die and internationally recognised speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health. He spoke about the next killer flu, which he believes is brewing in battery chicken farms. “The leading candidate for the next pandemic after Covid-19 is a bird flu virus by the name of H7N9, which is a hundred times deadlier than Covid-19,” Greger says. “Instead of a 0.4 per cent case mortality rate [which is what we’re seeing with Covid-19], H7N9 has killed 40 per cent of the people it has infected.”

“The leading candidate for the next pandemic after Covid-19 is a bird flu virus by the name of H7N9, which is a hundred times deadlier than Covid-19.”

– Dr. Michael Greger

The first reported incidence of H7N9 was in China in March 2013. Since then, sporadic annual human infections have been reported, with China currently experiencing its sixth epidemic. During the virus’ previous and fifth epidemic, from 2016 – 2017, the World Health Organization reported 766 human infections, making it the largest H7N9 epidemic to date.

The H7N9 virus is of special concern because most patients who contract the virus experience severe respiratory illness, such as pneumonia.

Influenza AH7N9 as viewed through an electron microscope. Both filaments and spheres are observed. ©Center for Disease Control and Prevention

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Asian lineage H7N9 virus is rated by the Influenza Risk Assessment Tool as having the “greatest potential to cause a pandemic”, as well as posing the highest risk of severely impacting public health if it were to achieve sustained human-to-human transmission.

Over the past few decades, hundreds of human pathogens have emerged – a rate unheard of in human history. They all have one thing in common – they came from animals. HIV, the virus that causes Aids, originated from the butchering of primates for the bushmeat trade in Africa. Sars and Covid-19 have been linked to the exotic-animal trade, and swine flu in 2009 arose from a wet market in Asia but was, according to Greger, “largely made in the USA in industrial pig operations”.

According to the CDC, the eight genes of the H7N9 virus are closely related to bird flu viruses found in domestic ducks, wild birds and domestic poultry in Asia.

The virus likely emerged from “reassortment”, or mutation, a process where two or more influenza viruses co-infect a single host and exchange genes, producing a new strain of the virus.

Experts believe the H7N9 virus underwent multiple mutations in live-bird and poultry markets, where different species of birds are bought and sold for food. Infected birds shed bird flu virus in their saliva, mucus and faeces. Human infections with bird flu viruses can happen when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled.

H7N9 reassortment diagram ©Center for Disease Control and Prevention

“That’s what viruses do best – they mutate and may find the lungs and become an airborne pathogen,” explains Greger.The last time a bird flu virus jumped the species barrier and triggered a pandemic, it caused one of the worst plagues in human history – the 1918 Spanish flu,. This disease was triggered by a flu virus that bred in the crowded, stressful trench warfare conditions of World War I, and had a two per cent mortality rate, killing 50 million people.

Greger says: “We have the same trench warfare conditions today in every industrial egg operation and industrial chicken shed where the animals are confined, crowded, stressed – but by the billions, not just millions.”

Michael Greger MD believes the next pandemic is waiting in the wings of chickens. ©Dr Michael Greger

It matters how we raise animals around the world, regardless of what we choose to eat, because we are all put at risk by animal farming. “When we overcrowd thousands of animals into cramped football-field-sized sheds, beak to beak or snout to snout, atop their own waste, it’s a breeding ground for disease,” Greger says.

The overcrowding of animals in such conditions leads to stress, which cripples their immune systems. This is made worse by ammonia from their decomposing waste burning their lungs, as well as a lack of fresh air and sunlight. “Put all these factors together and you have a perfect storm environment for the emergence and spread of super strains of influenza,” he adds.

Just as eliminating the exotic-animal trade and live-animal markets may go a long way towards preventing the next coronavirus pandemic, reforming the way we raise animals for food may help forestall the next killer flu.

Companies are developing plant-based foods in response to demand for alternatives to meat as a source of protein. They are primed to expand production as more consumers turn away from cheap, factory meat products.

Such a change is happening in the dairy industry, where cow’s milk sales have fallen as consumers become aware of, and are given a choice of, non-dairy milk alternatives. Dairy produce sales fell by 22 per cent between 2006 and 2016, according to Cargill, the world’s biggest producer of animal feed. In the same period, sales of plant-based milk alternatives tripled.

“All the major meat producers – Tyson, Smithfield, Hormel, Purdue, JBS – have started innovating us out of this precarious situation by making plant-based meat alternatives,” says Greger.

Cargill, the largest private corporation in the United States, is now producing plant-based lines of sausages and chicken nuggets. The world’s largest fried chicken chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken, has started rolling out “Beyond Fried Chicken” plant-based alternatives at dozens of stores in the US in the hopes of going national. Starbucks, the largest coffee-house chain in the world, which has been offering plant-based dairy alternatives for several years now, last month introduced a line of Impossible meat-free options in Asia, including a wrap and pasta salad bowl, which can be found in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

Global fast food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, who use battery cage farming to raise their chickens, have started selling a plant-based alternative.

If more people choose these products, corporations will make more of them and the world would be at less threat.

Although doctors recommend eating whole plant foods rather than processed plant foods, Greger says that if you’re at a fast-food chain and you’re going to order something, opting for these plant-based alternatives is not only healthier than the meat option, but from a pandemic disease standpoint “poses zero risk”.

Ocean Robbins is co-author of Voices of the Food Revolution – You Can Heal Your Body and Your World – With Food.

Ocean Robbins , author of Voices of the Food Revolution and professor at Chapman University. ©Ocean Robbins.

He serves as an adjunct professor for Chapman University in Orange, California, and is the CEO of the online Food Revolution Network, which advocates for affordable and accessible healthy food for all.

Livestock gain weight faster, which increases profits, when they’re fed antibiotics with every feed, and because of this, factory farms have become breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Robbins says. He adds: “We are creating inevitable future pandemics every day when we take 80 per cent of our antibiotics and feed them to livestock.”

Echoing Greger, Robbins explains that a big way to make a difference as an individual is to eat lower on the food chain, opting instead for whole plant food options.

“You’re not going to be supporting antibiotic use in factory farms if you don’t eat the products of factory farms,” he says.

How to meditate your coronavirus fears away during lockdown, from breathing techniques to looking at nature

First published in South China Morning Post
  • Meditation enables a shift from reactive to responsive living, in which we choose what we dwell on, including our thoughts, experiences, and healing
  • Keeping calm isn’t just about traditional meditating – we can also experiment with plant-based diets, breathing techniques, gardening and painting

Before the coronavirus pandemic forced me into home confinement in central Singapore, I had a morning meditation ritual – spending up to 40 minutes in silence on my balcony and looking onto a dazzling yellow flame tree.

Now, I sit again in the evening, too. This nourishes my feelings of gratitude and compassion during these challenging times as I await the birth of my second child.

Mindfulness and meditation have interested me since my early teens, but I only began practising it daily a year ago, after a healing session with meditation and spiritual teacher Danielle Van de Velde.

Meditation enables a shift from reactive to responsive living, in which we can choose what we dwell on, including our thoughts, experiences, and healing.

“This is critical in this current situation when so much of our life experience is curbed with containment measures and we are under constant bombardment of Covid-related content,” Van de Velde, an Australian living in Singapore with 30 years of experience, says.

Danielle Van de Velde
Danielle Van de Velde is a spiritual healer and meditation teacher ©Danielle Van de Velde

The practice of drawing ourselves into present awareness, meditation creates a new state of presence and the ability to draw back to present awareness at will.

Like me, Van de Velde credits meditation for her good health, illness prevention and the ability to live intuitively. “Meditation is a lifestyle for me and a state of being, rather than an activity I engage with. It has enabled a complete shift in how I live,” she says.

Van de Velde grew up in a spiritual home and has been meditating since her childhood. “I had a hunger for understanding life and self from a very young age,” she says. This, along with her slightly rebellious nature, has led her on a journey of exploration and discoveries.

When she was in her 20s and 30s, she worked in the financial and property sectors in Australia, Europe and the United States. In her personal life, she explored healing practices and meditation techniques, and held informal meditation sessions for many groups before she became a qualified meditation teacher. Fifteen years ago, she left the corporate world to teach and support others on their inner explorations.

Most of Van de Velde’s students are experiencing high levels of stress because of their feelings of “disempowerment and uncertainty” during the pandemic. “These feelings make it easy to generate alternate reality tunnels of doom and gloom, and disconnect us from our current reality,” she says.

Sutha Atiin, a social worker in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is one of her students. She has been feeling anxious, even experiencing bouts of dizziness, as the number of Covid-19 cases, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to rise.

“I have children and grandchildren in Britain and Singapore, and extended family in Australia, not to mention all my family in Java,” Atiin, 62, says. “As a mother and grandmother, I worry that they will catch the virus.”

To destress, Atiin has been practising meditation in the form of pranayama, a yogic term that translates to energy or life force (prana) and breath (yama). She favours nadi sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing.

Nodhi sadhana breathing ©Angela Jelita
Sutha Atiin practices alternate nostril breathing or nadi sodhana to help alleviate her Coronavirus anxieties. ©Angela Jelita

“The other night, I was feeling very worried,” Atiin recalls. “I practised nadi sodhana, closing the left nostril and taking a slow, deep breath from the right nostril, then closing the right nostril and breathing out slowly, releasing all the air through the left nostril.” After 20 minutes, she had returned to a relaxed state of mind.

“I also send love and compassion to others during this time, a practice that always leaves me feeling at peace,” she adds.

Meditation is good not only for the mind, but for the body, as it triggers the release of immune-boosting chemicals into the system. Gratitude, awe, wonder, loving kindness and an altruistic outlook – thinking of others before self – have all been shown to have this effect.

A review of 20 studies on meditation and the immune system published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2016 suggests the practice may help dampen inflammation, boost immunity and slow biological ageing.

Meditation is key as I prepare mentally and spiritually for my home birth without medication. When I can, I meditate outside or with a view of nature. Gazing upon an old tree is comforting and elicits peaceful feelings. Sitting cross-legged on a meditation cushion, I close my eyes and focus on my in and out breaths, through my nostrils. I take in long, healing breaths and release them in a slow, steady stream.

After meditating, I feel calm and completely in the present. This helps me to let emotions come and go throughout the day without holding onto them.

After a few minutes of focused breathing, I arrive at an altered state of awareness and return to my natural breath, now slower and more at ease. I observe any thoughts or sounds that enter my mind. When a thought comes in, I visualise it going into a balloon and floating off into the sky.

After meditating, I feel calm and completely in the present. This helps me to let emotions come and go throughout the day without holding onto them.

On Mondays during the lockdown, my husband and his work colleagues have a morning conference call in which I lead them through a simple, guided meditation to help them to relax and manage stress.

With practice, it becomes easier to be able to enter a meditative state throughout the day, not only in a formal sitting. “Thankfully, the process is a quick one, as the system starts to recognise the movement inward and neural pathways form to create ‘the habit’ of meditation,” Van de Velde says. “A dedicated minimum of 10 minutes a day will yield these shifts in a relatively short amount of time.”

To maintain our sense of calm in these uncertain times, Van de Velde suggests experimenting with lighter, more plant-based diets. She also advises maintaining a meaningful connection with both nature and loved ones.

Atiin has taken up other meditative forms, including spending time gardening. “I find connecting with and looking after my garden extremely soothing,” she says. She has also picked up a paintbrush for the first time in a long time. “This form of creative expression is very healing and helps me process my emotions.”

Van de Velde believes having to stay inside during lockdowns is a golden opportunity for people to deepen their understanding of the mind-body-energy system and its capacity to heal and self-regulate. “This is perhaps the grandest invitation the world has been given to raise its game, and it only can happen one person at a time.”