First it starts with concern. Then panic — followed by paranoia. Until finally, it leads to widespread fear.
Yes, it seems the world is in the grips of a new pandemic. Or at least, it’s shaping up to be that way.
Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind, even if it’s just lingering at the back of it. A viral threat that could become a global killer.
Markets and the media are certainly worried about that anyway. Every morning there are updates on new cases or the rising death toll.
So far though, this disease is still largely isolated in China.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to downplay the threat of this outbreak.
From what I understand we’ve got a fairly insidious problem on our hands. But, at least the spread has been limited so far.
Having said that, the fact that this disease exists at all has perturbed many. After all, it bares many similarities to the SARS crisis of 2003. An event that many outside of China viewed as avoidable.
Which will beg the question, could coronavirus also have been prevented?
In my view, the answer is yes…
All China needs to do is close the wet markets
Both SARS and coronavirus are being blamed on China’s ‘wet markets’. A hub for trading all kinds of livestock and exotic animals.
The key distinction though, is that some of these animals are still alive. Often caged up in squalor, they are waiting to be sold and slaughtered.
From an outsiders perspective it can seem cruel and horrifying.
In the Western world we are often sheltered from the grittier aspects of farming. Not in China though — which is why it can appear more barbaric.
Beyond the perception though, these wet markets are the perfect storm for disease. They lie dormant in the live animals, unaffected by symptoms.
But when a human comes into contact with them, things turn deadly. Just like we’re seeing right now.
As you may know, bats and civets are believed to have been the origin of SARS. Animals that were sold and likely eaten in Guangdong, China.
Coronavirus has almost certainly followed a similar pattern. It is thought that the disease spread from bats to snakes, and then snakes to people.
Another case of an interspecies outbreak.
So, the solution is obvious. All China needs to do is close the wet markets.
Well, the LA Times certainly thinks so:
‘If we want to forestall the evolution of ever-newer, and possibly deadlier, human-adapted viruses, live animal markets must be permanently shut down.
‘Until the Chinese government outlaws these markets, until factory farms housing millions of animals are eliminated, until we take the inevitable logic of disease evolution into account, novel, and potentially deadly, human diseases will continue to arise. Again. And again. And again.’
Now, I don’t disagree with this view. Ridding the world of live animal trading seems like a no-brainer to me.
However, it is an argument made in bad faith.
Artificial meat could rid China of live trade
At the end of the day people have to eat.
China, like any other country, has to feed its citizens. And they have more mouths to feed than any other nation on Earth.
Because of this, wet markets are a vital part of the equation. It is how most Chinese actually buy their food. They prefer it to the Western supermarket. As food security researcher Zhenzhong Si notes:
‘Actually, the Chinese government has been trying to convert many of the wet markets in cities to supermarkets. They tried this in 2002 but failed just because they were no longer able to provide fresh food at a cheaper price, so they lost their original customers.’
Getting rid of wet markets just isn’t feasible. It is how the Chinese prefer to shop.
So, we clearly need another alternative. And I believe there is one…
By using plant-based or lab-grown meat, China’s wet markets could do away with live animal trade.
There would be no need to cage, sell, and kill animals for food. They could simply cultivate it from other sources. A safer way to feed the billion-plus people across the country.
Better yet, as research continues, engineering lab-grown meat will only get cheaper and easier. It won’t take long for it to overtake farming as we know it once the ball gets rolling.
We’re already seeing this trend emerge onto the world stage.
Companies like Beyond Meat, Memphis Meats, and Tyson Foods are already upending the meat industry as we know it. They’re transforming the way we think about food. And in time, they could transform what we all eat at the dinner table.
I’m not saying it’ll happen overnight, but it will happen.
And it just might be our best shot at preventing another viral outbreak like the coronavirus in the future.
Editor, Money Morning
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