It is impossible to ignore the human misery, pain and
turmoil caused by the habit of eating animal flesh—unless, of
course, you like to eat animal flesh. Take, for instance, the current
epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS, which
is wreaking havoc upon areas of Asia and North America. The SARS virus
surfaced late last year in Hong Kong and the neighboring province of
Guangdong in southern China, then rapidly spread to Canada, Taiwan,
Vietnam, and large sections of central and northern China. So far, the
SARS epidemic has cost China and the world economy tens of billions
of dollars. For millions of people around the world, daily life has
been turned upside down as the fear of being contaminated with the deadly
SARS virus is a distinct possibility.
At press time, SARS has killed approximately 735 people. More than 8,200
persons are infected, many of whom are being quarantined.
What caused the SARS epidemic? A likely answer to this question is the
ingrained habit of eating animal flesh.
From Animals to Humans
In May, the World Health Organization reported that new research suggests
that the epicenter of the SARS epidemic is the live animal markets of
Guangdong Province. Here, workers handle and butcher innumerable species
of animals—including badgers, cats, chickens, frogs, snakes, turtles,
and a weasel-like animal called the masked palm civet—for the
pleasure of their customers. An unusually high percentage of the first
SARS victims in Guangdong were butchers and other food handlers at the
live animal markets, and scientists believe that during the rearing,
slaughter and preparation of animals, the virus may have jumped from
animals to humans.
Researchers have found a virus nearly identical to the one that causes
SARS in humans in three animal species commonly butchered in the Guangdong
animal markets, considered by some as delicacies. The SARS-like virus
has been found in six masked palm civets, a raccoon dog, and a badger.
A threatened species, the masked palm civet is commonly eaten in the
fall and winter in China. The custom stems from the popular belief that
it helps one’s body combat the cold weather.
In the Vegetarian Advocate column of May 2002 titled “Did Carnivores
Cause AIDS?”, I discussed the mounting evidence suggesting that
AIDS started in Western and Central Africa and seems to have made the
leap from animals to humans when hunters slaughtered chimps for “bush
meat.” Apparently HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS, infected
human beings through bites and blood exposure when hunting or butchering
Unlike SARS, the AIDS epidemic has had two decades to work its way around
the planet. The human toll? Grandparents, teenagers, mothers and fathers,
mere babies. To date, an estimated 20 to 25 million people have died
from AIDS, killing roughly one person every ten seconds. Future victims?
An estimated 14,000 people become infected with the AIDS virus each
day. Currently, at least 40 million are reportedly infected with HIV.
Compared to AIDS, the fact that Mad Cow disease or Bovine Spongiform
Encephalopathy—another health epidemic caused by carnivores and
the apparent cause of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD) in humans—has
just surfaced in cattle in Canada for the first time, causing many countries
to ban the importation of Canadian beef and causing unrest and uncertainty
in the world’s financial markets, seems utterly trivial.
Good for What?
One of the truly diabolical ironies about carnivorism is that, despite
all of the compelling medical evidence, people eat animal flesh because
they believe it’s good for their health. Yet, a meat-based diet
is responsible for the ill health and premature death of countless millions
of people each year. In the developed world, most of the leading causes
of death, such as heart disease and numerous cancers, are caused in
part by excessive meat consumption.
However, it’s difficult to know what’s growing faster—the
medical evidence that eating meat is dangerous for one’s health
or the amount of meat that people consume on a daily basis.
During the last several years, medical researchers have explored the
connection between diet and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, researchers
have noted that people with Alzheimer’s tend to have high levels
of an amino acid called homocysteine. A recent study by researchers
at Boston University and Tufts University suggests a connection between
high homocysteine levels in healthy people and their later development
of Alzheimer’s. What causes a person’s levels of homocysteine
to increase? Yes, a diet that is heavy in animal protein and light in
fruit and leafy green vegetables. Unlike meat, fruit and vegetables
lower one’s homocysteine level.
Moreover, several studies presented at last year’s international
conference on Alzheimer’s disease, held in Stockholm, suggest
that the risk factors for heart disease—such as high blood pressure,
excess weight and high cholesterol—may contribute to Alzheimer’s.
Likewise, a Columbia University study found that a “diet high
in calories and fat may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
in people who are genetically susceptible to the mind-robbing disorder,”
reports the Associated Press. “The study found that people who
consumed the most calories and fat faced double the risk of developing
On top of this are cases of CJD that were found in autopsies of people
diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in studies by researchers at Yale University
and the University of Pittsburgh. Symptoms of these two diseases are
similar: dissolution into a debilitating dementia.
With such a growing body of evidence suggesting that meat-eating is
so risky, why would anyone choose to be a lifelong carnivore?