Asia’s swine fever epidemic boosts case for meat free eating

The slaughter of millions of pigs underlines the need for a swift transition to a more planet and animal-friendly diet

Group of young pigs crowded together on a factory farm

If ever you needed a reminder of what a mess meat eating is making of the natural world, cast your eyes to the east. China and southeast Asia are in the grip of African swine fever, and millions of pigs are being slaughtered to save the industry and keep the renminbi in large producers’ pockets.

The outbreak of the virulent and fatal disease began a year ago this month and has been tearing through countries such as China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, South Korea and Laos at a rate of knots. More than a million pigs have been killed in China alone, and two million in Vietnam, in an attempt to contain the spread.

These intelligent animals are not only being slaughtered, however, but destroyed in the most astonishingly inhumane ways. While swine fever means the pigs escape the slaughterhouse, authorities have taken to shovelling them up with bulldozers and burning or burying them alive. Animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming has written to China’s ambassador to the UK, urging Beijing “to halt this cruel killing method as a matter of urgency”.

Dirk Pfeiffer, an expert on the disease, which is also known as pig ebola, called the epidemic “the biggest animal disease outbreak we’ve ever had on the planet”, one that “pales in comparison” to the outbreaks in the UK of foot-and-mouth and BSE. He added that: “We have no way to stop it from spreading.”

With the price of pork skyrocketing and livelihoods and communities being destroyed, farmers in affected countries are being asked to diversify. One solution might be for them to stop farming meat entirely and turn instead to growing crops for humans to eat.

Research has shown that Europe could more than adequately feed itself by using agroecology – applying ecological principles to agriculture – rather than factory farming. And food production in America would increase by 120 per cent if it went vegan, growing food for its citizens rather than for livestock.

The case for moving away from meat on environmental, health and animal welfare grounds has been made many times over, but a UN “planetary health check” painted the starkest picture earlier this year, showing the extent to which agriculture and human activity is destroying biodiversity around the world, posing a threat to our very existence.

The situation in China and southeast Asia is a timely reminder not just that the global meat industry is unsustainable but unstable, and if there is any positive to take from such an awful situation, it is that yet another scandal related to factory farming and industrialised animal production can only encourage more people to give meat free eating a try.

For more information on the swine fever outbreak, read “The Whole Hog”, an article by Mia MacDonald of Brighter Green, a New York-based environmental think tank, and Gene Bauer of Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue and protection organisation.