February 2020


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Phil Gasper <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 15 Feb 2020 20:37:17 -0600
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Coronavirus: an effect of global agribusiness
10, 2020
Written by Elaine Graham-Leigh
Published in Analysis <>
[image: Coronavirus. Photo: wikimedia commons]

Coronavirus. Photo: wikimedia commons
Growing profit first and food second is the reason for the virus. Look to
modern industrial farming for the culprit, argues Elaine Graham-Leigh

As the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak outstrips that from Sars,
media attention seems to be focusing on how the authoritarian Chinese
regime shut down early warnings that a new virus was infecting people in
Wuhan. It’s clear that, as with the Sars virus outbreak in 2003
the Chinese government were as concerned to cover up the reality of the
situation as they were to prevent the virus from spreading. The death of Li
Wenliang, who highlighted the outbreak in December, is a tragedy. It is
important, however, that we don’t allow the failures of the Chinese
government’s response to the virus to become the explanation for its
emergence in the first place.

From the beginning of the epidemic, accounts of its origin in the market in
Wuhan have stressed how this was a market selling live fish and animals as
well as meat, including a range of exotic species like ‘snakes, turtles and
cicadas, guinea pigs, bamboo rats, badgers, hedgehogs, otters, palm civets,
even wolf cubs
The implication of this is that it was the presence of one of these species
in the market which brought humans into contact with the disease. In this
view, then, coronavirus is caused by weird Chinese dietary practices and
allowed to spread by weird Chinese authoritarianism. It’s a Chinese problem
that the rest of the world is now suffering from.

This racist construction of the coronavirus story has real consequences for
Chinese communities in the UK, who report a ‘shocking’ rise in racist
since the disease hit the news, including Asian young people being attacked
and pelted with eggs. It also ignores the way in which modern agribusiness
is the real cause of new, deadly diseases.

We don’t yet know from which species we got this coronavirus. Despite the
widespread reports, it isn’t even clear that it did originate in that Wuhan
market, as the person who became the earliest coronavirus case was not
associated with it
What we do know, though, is that modern industrial farming, with huge
facilities housing thousands of animals and birds, creates the perfect
conditions for the viruses which these species carry to combine and develop
variants which can then cross to humans. The flu family of viruses has
shown this repeatedly.

The spread of cultivation into areas which were previously habitats for
wild species also brings us into contact with new, deadly diseases. Ebola,
for example, is carried by a species of fruit bat, which when deprived of
its usual habitat by development has a habit of taking up residence in palm
oil plantations. Incursions into the bat’s territory for palm oil
production correlates with the major Ebola outbreaks.

The point here is that new diseases like this coronavirus outbreak are not
caused by local failings but are an inescapable part of the way that global
agribusiness concerns go about their business. As Rob Wallace commented in
his excellent *Big Farms Make Big Flu
they are the inevitable result of ‘an ecological system built on growing
money first.’ As Wallace suggests, rather than naming the diseases after
the species we think they came from, like swine flu or avian flu, we should
call them after the multinational that owns the facility they developed in.
It would at least show where the real fault lies.

It is possible that, given the already sluggish state of the global
economy, the effect of disruption because of the coronavirus could trigger
a new global slump
It is by no means certain, but if it did, it would be an example of how
capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction. The pattern with
previous disease outbreaks connected to agribusiness has been that they
have worked to the benefit of major corporations, as the ramifications have
hit smaller farmers harder than the big, industrial operations. It may be,
though, that this time, the chickens (or pigs, or fruit bats) will come
home to roost.
Tagged under: Capitalism
<> Racism
<> Environment
<> China
<> Food
[image: Elaine Graham-Leigh]
<> Elaine
Graham-Leigh <>

Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade,
focusing on issues of climate change and social justice. She speaks and
writes widely on green issues and is a member of Counterfire. Her book, *A
Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change*, will be published in
April 2015 by Zero Books.