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There is quite a bit of livestock farming going on in this planet of seven billion people. -- AFP File Pix
There is quite a bit of livestock farming going on in this planet of seven billion people. -- AFP File Pix

THE coronavirus outbreak has many lessons for us.

One we must learn very quickly is this: if we want to be in good health, we must treat our animals well. As we are a meat-eating lot (by 2050, we will be consuming double the tonnage we are eating now) the lesson is even more urgent.

First, some statistics from The Economist. Picture this: for every human on this planet, there are three chickens. And Brunei rules the roost with 40 birds for every one in the sultanate.

Next come cattle with 1.4 billion heads, with sheep and pigs a close second at one billion each.

The point is this: there is quite a bit of livestock farming going on in this planet of seven billion people. And most of it is intensive farming.

Compassionate farmers have an uncomplimentary phrase: factory farms. Meaning meat machines.

Globally, some 1.3 billion people raise animals, accounting for a third of the world’s total agricultural gross domestic product.

But animal husbandry comes with a blessing and a curse. The latter, mostly of human doing.

What do you expect when you place them in “factories” to squeeze the most meat from them?

Welfare of the animals is the least of the farmers’ concern. Profit often comes before animals.

According to Compassion in World Farming, a United Kingdom organisation that is pushing for kind treatment of farmed animals, globally 70 billion such animals are being reared for food.

Of this, two-thirds are factory farmed. That means they are caged, crammed and confined. If there ever was a protein destroyer, this must be it.

Animals are sentient beings, and they must be treated as such. But how? Give them the room to run and roam. Like us, they, too, have to at least walk that brisk walk.

Healthy animals are made that way. Many factory farmers will cry foul (forgive the pun), citing costs. Cheap food is made thus, they argue.

True, but that is short-term thinking. Instant gratification did nobody any good. Least of all businesses. In the long run, not treating the animals well will prove to be a lot costlier.

What’s more in a place like Malaysia, where some animal diseases are endemic. Like it happened in 1998 when the newly emergent Nipah virus hit the country’s pig farms with devastating effect.

Farmers, too, were infected when the virus made the jump to humans.

The disease was only contained — after it crossed the border to Singapore — when more than one million pigs were culled. It happens elsewhere too.

Like the foot and mouth disease which hit Britain and then spread to Europe in February, 2001. In Britain alone, some 120,000 infected animals were culled and burned in giant pyres, as one English newspaper put it.

Close proximity is an issue. When animals are battery-cage close, farmers are really lending a helping hand to the bacteria, virus and parasites to jump from one bird to the other. Or one animal to another.

And when the conditions are right, as it happened with the Nipah virus and others that followed, they make the jump, from animal to human. The rest, as they say, is history.

Or more accurately, a repeat of history. Time we had a rethink on how we run our animal farms.

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