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Ribbon Fish being overfished in Malvan, India (Image by Pooja Rathod under Creative Commons License)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 3

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

Russia is first among the developed nations to say that they are going to be glyphosate-free by 2025.  Why are we driving our soil to extinction?  Why can’t we pledge to be a glyphosate-free and LibertyLink-free nation?  Why does our government pass legislation that makes it illegal for the Environmental Protection Agency to consider generational toxicity data?

We live in an environment where pig stool is considered such a biohazard that it’s illegal to transport it across state lines.  “Imagine billions of gallons of pig stool outside of Smithfield, North Carolina, or ten times more in Hubei province.  We have these massive pig stool lakes, every teaspoon of which has millions of microorganisms that are all under severe stress from glyphosate and everything else, and they are cranking out viruses at an astounding rate,” says Dr. Zach Bush.

Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

As he untangles the workings of the virus, Dr. Bush points out that we break down our innate immune system through the mechanisms of soil, water, and air.  While 75% of air samples in the U.S. are contaminated with glyphosate, the wildfires in Australia and California in 2020 also released an enormous amount of PM 2.5 in our environment.  “Sars-COV2 + influenza viruses bind to PM2.5, and when humans experience long-term exposure to this air pollution, it lowers the innate resistance to viral infection,” he explains.  “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention always sends out toxicologists along with infectious disease scientists to a new pandemic site.  It’s been long recognized by the CDC that the environment is a critical piece of the pandemic, but they only publish the findings around the virus, not around the toxicity in the environment.”

Setting the narrative of the pandemic right, Dr. Bush points out that rather than focusing on living in harmony with nature, we have created a perturbation in nature and our relationship to nature is expressing itself in a pandemic.  He also asserts that our reductionist belief system that pharmacy is going to fix everything is keeping the vast majority of our country’s population sick and disease-ridden.  “The human body isn’t as delicate as we are led to believe—we are actually quite resilient.  We don’t live in a world where we are under constant attack by nature.  It’s really the other way around: The destruction of nature by humankind has ultimately altered our biology to a point where we have had to maladapt to our self-created toxic environment.  The human species has become a parasite of planet Earth.  We are the disease.”  Dr. Bush makes a plea for cleaning up our soil, water, and air to prevent future pandemics and affirms that the healthcare system will right itself as soon as we fix the food system.

A nationwide study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health corroborates Dr. Bush’s comments on the known connections between PM2.5 exposure and a higher risk of death from COVID-19 and other cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.  The study states that an increase of only 1 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 death rate.  The researchers wrote: “The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

With the pandemic rampant last year, a TIME article questioned: “As the coronavirus has spread through America’s meatpacking plants amid growing recognition that overcrowded factory farms are risk factors for other diseases, some people have wondered whether we’ve reached a tipping point.  Might Americans finally be ready to go easy on their beloved hot dogs and steaks?”  The answer is: “Simply put, no.”  The article quotes Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America: “They (the producers) want them to imagine there’s no backstory, and for the vast majority of people, I think that is still the case.”

As if oceans belong on our planet to supply “seafood”, fish are readily offered when servers are asked for meat-free options in restaurants.  If animal agriculture has ravaged our environment, industrial fishing has been equally devastating on earth, polluting our oceans and waterways.  According to National Geographic, “more than 55 percent of ocean surface is covered by industrial fishing…That’s more than four times the area covered by agriculture.”

As the loss of ocean biodiversity accelerates, it’s predicted that in 30 years there will be little or no salt-water fish.  “Biodiversity is a finite resource, and we are going to end up with nothing left … if nothing changes,” says Professor Boris Worm, a marine ecologist.

Supermarket fish come from commercial fishing or aquafarming.  Both have devastated our ecosystems.  Industrial fishing deploys massive ships–supertrawlers–which remain out at sea for weeks and months at a time.  These ships require large amounts of CO2-producing fuel.  They catch hundreds of tons of fish every single day because they can process or freeze on the ship itself.  “The fishing nets scrape up fish—and anything else in their path—wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems and ocean habitats.  The United Nations estimates that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling.”  When hauled out of the water, surviving fish undergo excruciatingly painful decompression that causes severe bladder, eyes, and stomach damage.  Fishing lines catch and kill unintended species such as different fish, sea birds, turtles, and whales.  These animals are considered “bycatch” and thrown overboard.  

Aquaculture farming raises fish in the same unnatural, enclosed conditions as the factory-farmed livestock, and produces enormous waste.  They are also fed high quantities of antibiotics and have alarming levels of harmful chemicals.  Also, it takes up to five pounds of smaller wild fish from the ocean to produce just one pound of fish meat from salmon or bass, two of the most common fish being raised on factory farms.

Dr. Jyotsna Puri, Director, Environment, Climate, Nutrition, Gender, and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, finds it arrogant to make life and death decisions on the basis of benefits for humans.  “This is ironic since humans have defined a completely new geologic period called the Anthropocene, defined mainly because of the disasters we have wreaked!  THAT should have been a wake up moment for us. But it hasn’t been.  The anthropocentric view of life will have to change.  Every policy is subservient to the demands of Homo sapiens.  We have to change the way we function if we want to stave off the next pandemic.”  Dr. Puri argues that people change behavior when you set up the incentives and the infrastructure to make change possible.  She recommends creating a common global standardized measure to know a corporate’s or government’s impact on the environment and on our climate. 

“Monoculture of the mind–as I have called it–is the inability to see how ecosystems work, the inability to see how diversity is vital…Without biodiversity we will have no health,” Dr. Vandana Shiva points out.  Championing for small farmers who provide 80% of the food we eat globally, she says that if the small farmers are no more, India is not a civilization that is India.  Along with many scientists and researchers around the world, she asserts that GMO crops have brought more pesticide use and created new pests: “Genetic engineering is nothing more than genetic reductionism based on a very false assumption of genetic determinism.”

“These chemical companies cause a disaster, and then from the impacts of that disaster, they create a new market, and make a bigger disaster, and they create a new market.  So, every cost borne by the environment and by the humans becomes a new market of opportunity for the same people who cause that problem.  Right now, the health damages caused by the chemicals and GMOs in our food is becoming the biggest market for a combination of Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Tech, and Big Money.  It’s one big cancerous slop on this planet.”  Dr. Shiva refuses to be subjugated to “digital agriculture and the financialization of nature”.  One of her books, Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, discusses the new imperialism of food brought on by the likes of Bill Gates, who has been pushing monoculture GMO crops around the world.  She comments that “the digital agriculture farming without farmers that he is pushing so hard and so violently is the reason that farmers protests in India are being ignored.”

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offers a plea that we embrace GMOs in agriculture, saying that “avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science, it’s immoral.”  The ecological and health safety of GMOs has been questioned by research across the world that has busted these two assumptions: 1) That GMOs are indeed safe, and 2) that GMOs and industrial agriculture allow higher yields. GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods has hundreds of citations of peer-reviewed articles that cannot be dismissed.  Since the GMOs are proprietary, and since most university agronomy departments receive massive funding from agritech companies, when a study does document harm, it and its authors are subjected to career-ending attacks. 

In spite of trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, lives, and immeasurable hours of learning lost for school children, isn’t it staggering to know that no public health agency has declared that we will be in pandemic after pandemic so long as the world is so hungry for meat?  Isn’t it criminal that the CDC, the USDA, our politicians, or public health officials never talk about closing the overcrowded and filthy factory farms? 

Yes, sadly, there are places in this world where people are so desperately hungry and live in such dire conditions that they will eat whatever they could lay their hands on.  That’s not the case with most in developed countries where there is an abundant supply of other foods.  In fact, 30% of all food produced globally is wasted, and in the United States alone, we waste upwards of 40% of our food.  

March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)
March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada in 2013 (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)

When I hear that “We are all in this together,” or, “we all need to sacrifice and practice our shared commitment to take individual responsibility and civic accountability,” I want to cry out: “No, vegans and vegetarians have not brought this pandemic upon humanity!”  Yet, it is those who perform their civic duty toward their fellow humans and toward this planet–by choosing what they put on their plate for each meal–who are also being forced to sacrifice by locking themselves down and keeping their children from attending schools.  Why are meat-eaters commanding sacrifice from vegans and vegetarians?

Officials across the E.U. as well as in the U.S. have called upon citizens’ sense of duty and empathy, promoting messages of unity and communal sacrifice.  But, nobody is asking: “Sacrifice for whom and for what?”  Do we sacrifice for those who want these factory farms to keep butchering and producing meat for their dinner plates?  Do we sacrifice for those feeling complacent driving their Teslas and flaunting biodegradable disposables priding themselves that they are doing a huge favor to planet Earth – while completely ignoring that the most powerful choice one could make for the well-being of our planet is our food?  Do we sacrifice so that billions of taxpayer dollars continue to subsidize the factory farms and vaccines, while the Food and Drug Administration lets multibillion-dollar industries sell ultra-processed foods that keep our population sick and dependent on pharmaceuticals for a lifetime?

Do we sacrifice for the politicians and public health officials to order lockdowns while we never hear our government talk about pulling out all the junk foods, sodas, alcohol, vaping products, cigarettes, guns, disposable plastics, GMOs, and glyphosate from our stores?  Do we sacrifice for our government to subsidize Roundup Ready and LibertyLink crops which deplete our foods and hence our bodies of all the vital nutrients?  Why is there no discussion from our public health agencies about nutrition and lifestyle, guiding us on disease prevention?  

Why do 60% of Americans live with chronic health conditions?  Why are our politicians allowed to subsidize Big Ag that has only focused on herbicides, monocrops, and GMOs, to produce crops that grow faster and bigger but depleted of protein, vitamins, and minerals that the crops contained half a century ago?  How do the WHO, governments, and pharmaceuticals around the world get away with spending billions to invest in band-aids of vaccines after vaccines rather than address the root causes that bring about these pandemics?  Our students have been locked inside their homes because of the pandemic.  Why does producing cheap meat have priority over the well-being and health of our future generation?  Why should vegetarians and vegans bear the brunt of the irresponsibility and inhumanity of those who are not satisfied to consume the abundant plant foods that Mother Earth has to offer?  Is the U.S. the only country that has foods and drugs under the same administration?  Isn’t this counter-intuitive?  

“We need to be prepared for whatever COVID-24 is going to look like,” says  Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.  In that case, shouldn’t President Biden prioritize banning factory farms, glyphosate, and LibertyLink, in order to prepare the U.S. for future pandemic threats?  Isn’t prevention always better than cure?  Isn’t it a global problem that we are killing 60 billion animals a year for human consumption?  As Dr. Shiva asks, are we going to have a world view of regeneration – with our role in regeneration – or a world view of conquest and war?  

Last year, with COVID raging, I couldn’t bring myself to say “Happy Thanksgiving” to anyone – mourning the millions of helpless, intelligent, turkeys that got butchered and broiled; mourning the Native Americans who lost their lives and land; and of course mourning the enormous losses we have suffered due to a pandemic.  What’s “happy” about this holiday knowing that it’s precisely this human behavior that has encouraged the meat industry to produce the cheapest, the cruelest, the most irresponsible meat that brought this pandemic?

Industrial turkey barn (Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)
Industrial turkey barn (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)

Organizations like Food and Water Watch have been calling upon citizens to ask Congress to ban factory farms as they “place our public health and food supply at risk, pollute the environment and our drinking water, and wreck rural communities–while increasing corporate control over our food.”  Activist organizations like Environmental Working Group that question agricultural practices, use of toxic chemicals, and provide information on environmental and water quality issues are being drowned by the continuous onslaught of corporate greed, while those who choose not to eat meat feel powerless about their tax dollars going toward subsidizing butchering of animals and egregious agricultural practices that are destroying our ecology.  

Mahatma Gandhi had said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

Dr. Michael Greger writes: “As long as there is poultry, there will be pandemics.  It may be us or them.” 

Or, as ecologist Rachel Carlson put it succinctly nearly sixty years ago, “Nature fights back.” 

In the afterward of Dr. Greger’s book, Dr. Kennedy Shortidge–who discovered H5N1–appeals: “We have reached a critical point.  Today’s COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest in an increasingly harrowing viral storm threatening each of us.  We must dramatically change the way we interact with animals for the sake of all animals.” 

For those who reach for any kind of meat or seafood, I implore you to ask yourself: Am I bringing our planet one step closer to enormous suffering from yet another pandemic–and one step closer to extinction–with my choice?

Go back to read Part 1 and Part 2!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.