MC (m): Is our food supply putting global health at risk? Dr. Michael Greger, a physician, is probably one of the best qualified in the world to answer this question.
He is the director of public health at the Humane Society of the US. He is the author of “Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching,” and is an internationally known lecturer. Dr. Greger, who is not here, has however sent a video message to talk about some of the health threats we're currently unaware of.
Dr. Greger (m): Greetings to everyone at the World Preservation Foundation. Thank you so much for having me, and I apologize for not being able to be there in person. According to the director-general of the World Health Organization, the three greatest threats facing humanity are the global food crisis, climate change, and pandemic influenza.
Why is there so much concern about the so-called “swine flu”? Because, apparently, the last time an entirely new flu virus jumped species and triggered a pandemic, it went on to become the deadliest plague in human history, the influenza pandemic of 1918. Now, most flu strains tend to spare young, healthy adults, but the 1918 virus killed people in the prime of life. In 1918, more than a quarter of all people fell ill. In 1918, between 50 to 100 million people lost their lives.
A similar pandemic today could kill many more. What started for millions around the globe as muscle aches and a fever ended days or even hours later with many people bleeding from their eyes, nose, mouth, ears. Homeless orphans, their parents dead, wandered the empty streets.
Well, the conventional wisdom is that the 1918 pandemic was triggered when an H1N1 bird virus in its entirety, all eight gene segments, jumped into human beings. We then apparently passed it along to pigs, sickening millions of them as well. After the pandemic, after our human immune systems became used to the new virus, it turned into the regular seasonal flu, and in pigs, it turned into what's called classic or classical swine flu. Before 1918, there were no reports of pigs getting the flu at all. People got the regular flu every year and pigs got swine flu; the same with the 30's and same with the 40's - but swine flu was stable throughout.
But by 1999, everything changed. A never before described triple species re-assortment flu virus arose. The classical swine flu virus, after being stable for 80 years straight, picked up three gene segments from circulating human flu virus and then two gene segments from a bird flu virus to create the first triple animal re-assortment flu virus ever described. Our first hybrid, a human-pig viral mutant was discovered on an industrial pig production operation in Newton Grove, North Carolina.
The virus mutated further and then spread within months throughout the United States. We then exported it to Asia, and then the “favor” was apparently returned. After reshuffling with the classic swine flu virus, our “made in the U.S.A.” triple re-assortment virus picked up two gene segments from a Eurasian swine flu strain to create the flu pandemic of 2009. The main ancestor of the pandemic flu virus shown in orange is the triple hybrid mutant that emerged and spread throughout so-called factory farms. So, after eight decades of stability, what happened in the 1990s that led to these unprecedented changes in swine flu?
Now, in poultry, outbreaks of highly pathogenic, highly disease-causing, avian influenza in the first few years of this century has already exceeded the total number of outbreaks recorded for the entire previous century. As one leading flu expert told Science, “We've gone from a few snowflakes to an avalanche.” What's been happening in recent years to trigger this kind of evolution and fast-forward for both the swine and chicken flu viruses? Well, one can ask the world's leading expert, Dr. Robert Webster, who says now we have millions of chickens in chicken factories next to pig factories, and this virus has the opportunity to get into one of these chicken factories and make billions and billions of mutations continuously.
So what we've changed is the way we raise animals. Six years ago the world's three leading authorities got together for a joint consultation: the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization (the United Nations), and the World Organization for Animal Health, the world's leading veterinary authority. Their job was to uncover the key underlying causes of these emerging animal-to-human diseases. Number one on their list of themes of risk factors was the increasing demand for animal protein the world over. The United Nations has urged that all governments, local authorities and international agencies, need to take a greatly increased role in combating the role of factory farming, which provides ideal conditions for the flu virus to spread and mutate into a more dangerous form. More than five years ago, the American Public Health Association, the largest association of public health professionals in the world, called for a moratorium on these confined animal feeding operations, these factory farms.
In 2007, the Journal of the APHA, the American Public Health Association, published an editorial that went beyond just calling for a de-intensification of animal agriculture, the pork and poultry industries. “It's curious,” the editorial goes, “that changing the way humans treat animals, most basically ceasing to eat them, or at the very least radically limiting the quantity of them that is eaten, is largely off the radar as a significant preventive measure. Such a change, however, if sufficiently adopted or imposed, could still reduce the risk of the much feared influenza epidemic… Humanity does not even consider this option.” The editorial concludes, “Those who consume animals not only harm those animals and endanger themselves, but they threaten the wellbeing of future generations. It's time for humans to remove their heads from the sand and recognize the risk to themselves that can arise from their maltreatment of other species.”
Now, how we treat animals can have these global public health implications. In this age of emerging diseases, there are now billions of feathered and curly-tailed test tubes for viruses to incubate and mutate within billions more spins at pandemic roulette. But along with human culpability comes hope. If changes in human behavior can cause new plagues, well then changes in human behavior may prevent them in the future. Thank you.
MC (m): The shift to a more plant-based diet, aside from being an environment and government issue, is also a personal one. Increased public awareness and engagement, facilitated by government and industry, together with initiatives such as Meat-free Mondays, have shown that perceptions can change and win wide public participation.
In light of this, we are delighted to invite a guest speaker who's advocated the need for and the advantages of a plant-based diet for personal and planetary health for more than two decades. She is the inspiration behind the worldwide chain of vegan restaurants, Loving Hut. In recent years, she has established an international television channel, raising awareness about the urgent need to address climate change, and promoting dietary change as an effective means to halt it.
She is the recipient of many awards, including the 2006 Gusi Peace Prize, awarded for outstanding public service to mankind, and the World Spiritual Leadership Award in 1994. And in September this year, she was awarded a US Presidential Award. We'll now show via video, a message from Supreme Master Ching Hai.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Hallo. My highest salute and most respectful greeting to the Divine within you. Your Excellencies, distinguished decision makers of the great United Kingdom, and welcome guests, courageous ladies and gentlemen, it is with deep honor that I join you in your respected company in this urgent meeting.
As you are well aware, there are multiple global dangers facing all lives on Earth. Experts often highlight six major threats as the most pressing, urgent, of our time, namely: climate change, water shortage, food scarcity, deforestation, ocean collapse, and biodiversity loss. Although each threat on its own might cause enough damage to become a so-called “civilization buster,”their occurrence together would result in a global collapse, and all lives on the planet could be destroyed. Like many of you, I ask myself, day and night, how we can stop going in this calamitous direction. But I'm afraid the reality now is already too urgent.
Scientists say that water security for about 80% of the world's people is threatened due to drying and polluted river systems, shrinking glaciers from South America to the Himalayas, and groundwater levels that fall lower and lower each year. In 2009, for the first time, the number of people suffering from hunger exceeded 1 billion, while disasters threatened the food security of many more. Each year, tropical forests the size of New York state are burned to the ground, releasing 17% of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions - more than all transportation combined. Over 70% of our fish species are fully depleted, and the rest could be gone within a few ten years.
A recent study by the United Nations found that plants and animals are now disappearing at up to 1,000 times the natural background rate of extinction, with vital life-supporting ecosystems that could soon be irreversibly damaged. And you're right, we have global warming.
Even with strict greenhouse gas emission limits, the Earth's temperature is still expected to rise another 3.5 degrees Celsius within a few decades, which would result in the death of the Amazon rainforest, massive hurricanes smashing coastal cities, vast runaway release of methane from melting permafrost, and ultimately, mass extinction.
Already we see that disasters have become more frequent, prolonged and deadlier. Thus, if these six factors are not stopped fast, we risk losing everything. I mean everything! So please consider what is really at stake now, what is really our foremost, urgent priority at the present time. It's not just political reputation or economy- it's the lives, real lives, of all inhabitants on Earth: humans, animals, plants, trees, etc. Now, despite the overwhelmingly frightening situation at hand, esteemed researchers have identified one key cause of all these troubles, and there's even a solution to solve them.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2006 stated that: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global, namely, biodiversity loss, deforestation, land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, and others. So, it is not surprising that in June 2010, a report released by the United Nations Environment Program and the European Commission concluded that: “A substantial reduction of [environmental] impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide change of diet, away from [all] animal products.”
Now, let's check out one “civilization buster” at a time, to see how each is driven by meat consumption. You may never look at a piece of meat in the same way again.
1. First - Climate Change is a Civilization Buster, and its primary cause is: livestock raising. I guess you know already. The UN FAO's 2006 report, “Livestock's Long Shadow,” was followed by related research in 2009, which found that livestock and their byproducts account for at least 51% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions - and I know that it is 80% or even more.
Newer findings published by the US National Academy of Sciences and Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research also point to the livestock industry's huge impact on global warming. Furthermore, livestock production occupies a full 70% of all agricultural land and nearly one-third of all the planet's land surface. We have come to a point when climate scientists are now so extremely worried that they are even thinking of resorting to emergency ways to manipulate nature on a large scale through risky geoengineering.
But if we simply return these lands to nature again, like forest and grassland, then it would easily absorb a lot of emissions in the near future. Please also note that animal industry is the largest human-made source of methane and nitrous oxide, which are the greenhouse gases that are 72 times and 300 times more potent, respectively, than CO2. And methane, though being much worse than carbon dioxide, disappears many times faster, in about 12 years as opposed to centuries for CO2.
Therefore, eliminating livestock production would cool the planet quickly, which is needed urgently if we think about the climate tipping points that are getting nearer. Moreover, as the Rodale Institute in the USA determined, if the world's tillable land were organically cultivated, then 40% of the atmospheric CO2 would automatically be absorbed by the soil. Also, one German study found that an organic vegan diet could reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions, up to 94%.
Wow, think about that. Now, to briefly mention about financial cost. Dutch scientists have calculated that the powerful dietary change to the healthy vegan diet would not only dramatically reduce global warming, it would also save 80% in climate mitigation costs by 2050.
2. Second - Water Scarcity. Besides being a major water polluter, livestock consumes vast amounts of this precious resource, with as much as 200,000 liters required for each kilogram of beef, whereas only a tiny fraction of that, or 2,000 liters, is needed per kilogram of soya beans for example.
Put another way, eating four hamburgers costs a person the water equivalent of a year's daily showers. Wow, think of that again, huh. And, while 1.1 billion people don't have access to safe water, including 6,000 children who die every day from drinking polluted water (and that is on our conscience, yes?), some 1 trillion cubic meters of clean water is wasted on raising livestock. Are we really robbing our children of precious resources such as water for merely a poisonous disease-laden, disease-causing but easily replaced piece of meat? I'm sure you all agree, ladies and gentlemen, this is not acceptable.
3. Third - Food Crisis. To meet the needs of a growing population, more and more scientists and other experts are affirming the logic and efficiency of reducing livestock so that food can be delivered to people directly. [PAUSE] But, today, livestock are bred and fattened on nearly half of the world's grain supply, while almost 11 million children, who mostly live in those countries where these feed grains are grown, die, ironically, of hunger each year. On the other hand, directly supplied grain could easily feed more than the entire world's population.
4. Fourth - Deforestation. Lord Stern of Brentford, United Kingdom, lead author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, proposed the avoidance of deforestation as the most economic method of managing greenhouse gas emissions. Well, 91% of the cleared Amazonian rainforest since 1970, the lungs of our Earth, can be directly or indirectly attributed to cattle raising. And, in fact, the UN FAO stated that the livestock sector is the major driver of global deforestation.
5. Fifth - World Ocean Collapse. The main cause here, again, is animal products. The United Nations recently reported that continued fishing could deplete the oceans of all marine stocks within just a few decades. But the problem is not only fish consumption, the problem is also meat consumption, because as much as 50% of the fish killed each year, or tens of millions of tons of marine lives, are fed to livestock, not humans. Pigs and chickens consume six times more the amount of seafood than the entire American population, and twice as much as the whole Japanese. Think about that huh! So if we stop all animal products - fish, egg, meat, and dairy - we will save the oceans, save the climate; and as we find out next, we could halt also biodiversity loss.
6. Sixth - Of course, Biodiversity Loss. The livestock industry is the leading cause of an alarming decline in wild species. In a new October 2010 study, Dutch researchers found that protecting natural areas is not sufficient to stop these fast extinctions of flora and fauna; rather, one of the most effective policies is changing to a no-animal diet, meaning plant-based food. Now, some of us might question: Can our world really eliminate the global meat industry and become all vegan? The facts tell us “yes, we can,” and our humanity's survival instinct tells us “we must.”
As the respected US economist Jeremy Rifkin wrote in 2002, “[The world's wealthier consumers] favor eating at the highest point on the global food chain while their fellow human beings starve. We are long overdue for a global discussion on how best to promote a diversified, high-protein vegan diet for the human race.”
Former US Vice President Al Gore and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director Dr. James Hansen, both referred to eliminating meat as the “single most effective thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint.” Climate chief Lord Stern likewise publicly stated that: “A vegetarian diet is better.” Former World Bank advisor, Dr. Goodland, called the “improved diets” the “overlooked climate solution.” And Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said: “A major shift toward plant-based diets is imperative if we are to have even a chance of preventing catastrophe. In terms of immediacy of action...reducing meat consumption clearly is the most attractive opportunity.” Truly, the new opportunities for the food industry, consumers, and governments are bright.
There are many stories of success from people who joined the vegan food industry, as well as farmers who switched from livestock raising to organic vegan farming. Research also tells us that plant-based alternatives to animal products are not only healthy, they use less fossil fuel energy, create more sustainable jobs, and are growing in popularity because of their quality, which also includes good taste. We all love good taste, don't we? Analysts also say that meat and dairy prices are set to rise steeply due to high climate risks, “peak oil,” and extreme environmental costs, while the livestock industry, which is heavily dependent on subsidies to survive already, is becoming obsolete. And we know that animal industry workers even suffer, also, some of the worst physical, emotional, psychological and mental conditions now.
It's high time that we advance to better ways as a society, a nobler way as a society. And governments could use their subsidies for people's greatest benefit, by supporting the Earth-saving, organic vegan farming practices and promoting a healthy, sustainable, resource- efficient food industry. The way we are going with our consumption rate, the World Wildlife Fund researchers said that we'd need a second planet. If world governments stop supporting livestock and fishing, and instead wisely support organic vegan food production, they will save four-fifths of climate mitigation costs, save a lot of water pollution costs, and save health costs of about US$1 trillion due to meat-related diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, food poisoning, etc., to name a few.
Now we can prevent more than 20 million meat-related deaths worldwide per year if we turn to the vegan diet. No more suffering for loved ones, no more early separations, no more anguish for ourselves and others; and we will enjoy naturally longer, healthier, lovelier, happier lives. Even without the “civilization busters” threatening our planet's survival, an organic vegan diet would immensely improve the quality of our lives; spiritually also. It can curb the water and food crises and restore nature's life-support systems. It also happens to be the most rapid, cost-effective, and the only feasible climate solution, one that every nation can easily implement.
In sum, only with the organic vegan solution can we still save our planet. Respected and honorable ladies and gentlemen, I beseech you and all the leaders to please, help our world, please save our planet. I would like very much to not lose my hope, and everyone else's hope, because humans are caring, are clever, are courageous, and are the children of God. I can only add my heartfelt prayers to yours, <PAUSE> that together we will do everything possible and truly effective to save our planet for our children's sake. Thank you so much for your trust and attentive spirit. Wishing you forever wise, loving and blessed by the Divine. Love, love.
[Insert Meat Harms Scroll]
CAPTIONLisa Bloom (Vegan)Legal Analyst, CNN & CBS TV News Network, USALisa Bloom(f): It was a beautiful message from Supreme Master Ching Hai, because what she did was she broke it down, all of the six major problems that our planet is facing and how the number one cause of each of them is livestock production, or I choose to call it animal production. Animal production is clearly causing so many problems for the planet right now.
Supreme Master put all of that together for people to understand and to see it as all part of the whole, and I thought that was tremendously important, and the videos were terrific. It brought together the science in a way that was very compelling.