The next pandemic could spring from the US meat supply, new report finds - USA Trending Blog

The next pandemic could spring from the US meat supply, new report finds - USA Trending Blog

The next pandemic could spring from the US meat supply, new report finds - USA Trending Blog

The next global pandemic could come from the United States.

That's the sobering message of a report from Harvard Law School and New York University, examining how humans, livestock and wild animals interact here.

Many familiar and terrifying diseases ‒ originated in animals, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika, pandemic flu and COVID-19. Some started in other countries, typically on the African or Asian continents. These so-called zoonotic diseases are often blamed on poor hygiene, lack of government oversight, or unsafe practices in those places.

While Americans often think "it couldn't happen here," regulations are so loose and interactions so frequent, researchers found, that a virus or another contagious bug could easily jump from animals to people in the U.S., sparking a deadly outbreak.

"There really is this false sense of security and unfounded belief that zoonotic disease is something that happens elsewhere," said Ann Linder, one of the report’s lead authors and associate director of policy and research with the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School. "In fact, I think we're more vulnerable than ever in many ways."

The report, also led by NYU's Center for Environmental and Animal Protection, highlights several areas of vulnerability, including commercial farms where millions of livestock come into close contact with each other and their handlers; the wild animal trade in which animals are imported with few or no health checks; and the fur trade in which minks and other animals are bred for their coats, with little safety oversight.

''Through globalization, we've erased seas and mountains and other natural boundaries of disease," said Linder, an expert in law and animal policy. "We're mixing animals and pathogens across different continents and circulating at a dizzying and ever-increasing pace."

About 10 billion land animals are raised in the U.S., a number which is increasing by about 200 million a year, according to the report. Pigs and poultry, for instance, are raised in higher numbers in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world, the report found, and are the most likely vectors for a particularly lethal outbreak of the flu.

Industry representatives were quick to defend the safety of their practices.

“According to the CDC, the likelihood of spreading an avian disease to a human in the United States is extremely rare,” Ashley Peterson, National Chicken Council senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said in an emailed statement.

A pork industry group did not immediately return a request for comment.

Workers on pig and poultry farms are particularly vulnerable because of a lack of regulations protecting them, said Delcianna Winders, an associate professor of law and director of the Animal Law and Policy Institute at Vermont Law and Graduate School in Royalton.

"There is virtually no regulation of on-farm raising of animals. There's limited regulation of the slaughterhouse but it is extremely inadequate and it's getting worse," said Winders, who was not involved in the report, but researches a similar area. "Right now, the federal government is deregulating slaughter, rather than increasing oversight."