Preventing the Next Pandemic: The Role of Animal Agriculture and Destruction of Nature

Plant Based Data
5 min readDec 31, 2020


IPBES Workshop on Biodiversity and Pandemics

Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)


Summary by

IPBES is one of the foremost institutions regarding environmental science and biodiversity with a mission to:

  • Track biodiversity on the Earth as impacted by human activities, as well as consequences to human society.
  • Educate people and make recommendations to preserve biodiversity and related human welfare.

This report is a comprehensive summary of the scientific literature regarding the development of past zoonotic pandemics, and risk of future zoonotic pandemics due to human activities. It frankly recognizes that humans are destroying and taking over the natural environment, resulting in viruses than are stable within their wild animal host populations, being transmitted to human controlled animals. They become a bio-generator of virus and pathogen mutations, spread of the pathogens, and eventual transmission to humans. As we breed or capture more animals, and erode nature, we will likely cause worse pandemics. The global poor will likely be most affected. As such we must reverse our destruction of natural environments and also reduce meat consumption from livestock and wild wild animals.

Zoonosis are caused by interactions between humans, livestock, and wild animals.

  • COVID-19 is likely such an occurrence.
  • 70% of emerging infectious diseases, such as ebola and zika, and most known pandemics, are zoonotic in origin. Learn more here.

Unsustainable and unlimited consumption patterns and consequent destruction of the natural environment is a global factor in zoonotic disease.

  • Human expansion over land is a major factor. Humans have directly altered 75% of the earth’s habitable land surface.
  • Natural ecosystems are buffers between between humans, livestock, and wild animals. They are continually degraded and bypassed.
  • Humans and livestock invade and occupy wild animal habitats.
  • Pathogens flow between wild animals, livestock, and humans in all direction (Not only flowing from wild animals to livestock and then to humans).

Wild animals are not the cause, but human activity and expansion is responsible for new zoonoses.

Livestock farming and wild animal trade and are the two major forms of human control and consumption of animals.

  • Massive number of animals are brought together in high density.
  • This is far beyond any such occurrence in nature.
  • Continuous expansion of human society, livestock production and wildlife trade is occurring globally.

Massive and dense numbers of animals in the wildlife trade or livestock farming causes:

  • Spread of pathogens between animals of same and different species.
  • Generation of new genetic mutations due to large numbers of animal hosts.
  • Interspecies transmission of pathogens further increase genetic recombination of pathogens (For example mutation of influenza virus between pigs and chickens, or corona virus between civet cats and other wild animals).
  • New pathogens are added to human livestock through contact with wild animals.
  • Livestock transport and trade spreads pathogens locally and globally.
  • Pathogens from livestock are often transmitted back to wild animals with negative impacts.
Drone photo of deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon. Forest has been cleared for the production of soybeans as feed for a globalized system of livestock production and trade (photo: Rhett A. Butler)

Prevention of future pandemics involves the reduction of the above actives

  • The current pandemic strategy is to respond after a pandemic has occurred, including vaccine development, which are absolutely needed, but does little in terms of prevention.
  • Reducing human expansion, livestock production, and the wild animal trade is what’s needed to prevent pandemics.
  • Taxes and other restrictions on meat production and consumption are suggested by this scientific report, and many others.
  • Such prevention of human pandemics will prevent both human suffering and impact on biodiversity.
  • Human suffering from pandemics impacts the the global poor and vulnerable people disproportionately.
Monetary value of legally traded wildlife commodities has increased more than 500% between 2005 and 2019 for all categories. Figures above bars = values in billions of US dollars. Data for plants included for comparison, and because trade in plants has led to introduction of disease vectors (e.g. tiger mosquitoes into USA, Netherlands). Data do not include timber or commercial fisheries.

By the Numbers — Key Statistics and Facts from the Report

  • $8 trillion to $16 trillion: estimated cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, including $5.8 trillion to $8.8 trillion of 3 to 6 months of social distancing and travel restrictions (6.4% to 9.7% of global GDP)
  • >1 trillion dollars: likely annual global economic damages due to pandemics
  • $53 billion: Economic impact of the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa
  • $7 billion to $18 billion: Estimated cost of the Zika virus in South America and the Caribbean (2015 to 2017)
  • $78 billion to $91 billion: total annual financial allocation for global biodiversity conservation
  • >70%: of emerging diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah encephalitis) caused by microbes found in animals (i.e. are classed as zoonotic pathogens) which ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock, and people
  • Almost 100%: of pandemics (e.g. influenza, SARS, COVID-19) have been caused by zoonoses
  • Up to 1.7 million: current estimate of ‘undiscovered’ viruses in mammal and water birds, the hosts most commonly identified as origins of novel zoonoses
  • Less than 2,000: currently catalogued viral diversity from these hosts (less than 0.1% of the potential zoonotic viral risk has been discovered)
  • 631,000 to 827,000: estimated number of viruses that could have the ability to infect humans
  • 24%: wild terrestrial vertebrate species traded globally
  • US$107 billion: value of international legal wildlife trade in 2019, a 500% increase in the last 15 years (since 2005), 2,000% since the 1980s
  • $7 billion to $23 billion: annual value of the world’s illegal wildlife trade [data incomplete]
  • >400: microbes (viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi and other microorganisms) have emerged in people during the last five decades, more than 70% of them originating in animals, mostly wildlife
  • At least 6: Pandemics since the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 — three caused by influenza viruses, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and COVID-19, and the frequency is increasing
  • 3% (~35 million ha): Increase in agricultural area worldwide, 1992 to 2015, mostly converted from tropical forests
  • 1 billion ha: anticipated area of land cleared globally by 2050
  • >30%: emerging infectious diseases attributed to land use change, agricultural expansion and urbanization
  • 75%: approved antimicrobial drugs derived from natural or naturally derived compounds
  • 12 million: estimated number of fungal species, one of which was the source of penicillin used to control bacterial infections and revolutionize medicine
  • $55 billion: Global economic impact of H1N1 on tourism

There are 631,000–827,000 unknown viruses in nature that could still infect people. Current Covid-19 economic impacts are 100 times the estimated cost of prevention (IPBES, 2020).

Learn more at our free library of over 1000 peer-reviewed articles organized into reference lists and cataloged by topic at:


Podcast - Dr Tushar Mehta: Animal Agriculture and the origin of pandemics like COVID-19 (The Plant Trainers Podcast — June 2020)

Resource Notes on Pandemics



Plant Based Data

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