But new findings confirm that COVID-19 and salmonella outbreaks––and most other zoonotic diseases––share a common source
On January 31, 2020, two years plus a month ago, United Poultry Concerns founder Karen Davis contributed the first ANIMALS 24-7 coverage of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Wet markets or Walmart? Animal consumption & the coronavirus.
Wrote Davis then, “The coronavirus has, not surprisingly, been traced back to one or more live animal markets in Wuhan, a city in central China, where, as in all fresh-kill “wet” markets, highly stressed animals, both wild and domestic, huddle in cages and tanks awaiting their turn to be slaughtered.”
The hypothesis that COVID-19 crossed into humans from animals at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, politically unpopular among U.S. conservatives and the animal use industries worldwide, has subsequently been challenged, investigated, and re-investigated from all directions, by more research teams from more nations than have investigated any previous disease outbreak ever.
Occam’s Razor prevails
Occam’s Razor has nonetheless prevailed: that the simplest, most obvious explanation is most likely to have produced the observed phenomena.
The world first learned of the existence of the then mystery coronavirus later named COVID-19 on December 30, 2019 from Marjorie Pollack, deputy editor of the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases online news exchange ProMED, who promptly shared with readers a report from about a novel “pneumonia” that medical experts in Wuhan were unable to identify.
On February 27, 2022, even as Davis was completing (How) Does Salmonella Grow on Trees?, posted below, ProMED amplified a Nature News report of the same day summarizing three newly released studies which, together, confirm that COVID-19 almost certainly spread to humans from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
[See https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00584-8; doi:
“Culprits could be raccoon dogs,” or rather, people who eat them
Assessed Nature News, “These analyses add weight to original suspicions that the pandemic began at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which many of the people who were infected earliest with SARS-CoV-2 [the formal scientific name for COVID-19] had visited.
“Taken together, these different lines of evidence point toward the market as the source of the outbreak –– much like animal markets were ground zero for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002-2004 –– says Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and an author of two of the reports.
“Andersen speculates,” Nature News added, “that the culprits could be raccoon dogs,” also known as tanuki, raised in China both for fur and to be eaten.
“Andersen and colleagues mapped five positive samples from the market to a single stall that sold live animals, and more specifically to a metal cage, to carts used to move animals, and to a machine used to remove bird feathers,” explained Nature News.
Bears poop in the woods & tanuki pooped on the poultry
“One of the coauthors on the report, virologist Eddie Holmes at the University of Sydney in Australia, had been to this stall in 2014 and snapped photographs –– included in this study –– of a live raccoon dog in a metal cage, stacked above crates of poultry,” Nature News recounted, “with the whole assembly sitting atop sewer drains,” where the Chinese Centers for Disease Control found COVID-19.
Concluded the Nature News report, “Taking all of the new data together, and adding a degree of speculation, Andersen suggests that raccoon dogs could have been infected on a farm that then sold the animals at the markets in Wuhan in November or December 2019, and that the virus might have jumped to people handling them, or to buyers.”
Karen Davis’ subject now is salmonella, but her point remains the same: that successfully combatting zoonotic disease requires, as she concluded in Wet markets or Walmart? Animal consumption & the coronavirus, “weaning others and ourselves if we’re still complicit, from choosing to mistreat and consume animals, whether they are in the wet markets of traditional culture, or in the meat cases of Walmart, Whole Foods and their like.”
(How) does salmonella grow on trees? Answer: `it doesn’t
by Karen Davis, Ph.D., President of United Poultry Concerns
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen—specifically with ongoing outbreaks in the romaine lettuce industry in addition to all the other outbreaks that we’re acutely aware of—Listeria in cantaloupe, Salmonella, and others.” – “The food safety imperative: Talking with attorney Bill Marler,” Food Safety News, February 22, 2022.
In the rare event that the mainstream media mentions an outbreak of Salmonella, E. coli, or other foodborne illness in people that the FDA or the USDA has traced to a fruit or vegetable such as lettuce or cantaloupe, the fact that the causative pathogen is of animal origin is seldom noted in the coverage.
Little wonder, given that agribusiness and the U.S. Department of Agriculture resist implicating animal farming in their reports on these “plant-based” outbreaks.
“The cantaloupe is not the culprit”
People are accordingly led to believe that the fruits and vegetables they buy at the store or eat in a restaurant can somehow generate contamination by pathogens (disease-causing microbes) whose natural habitat is the intestines, liver or other organs of animals. While fruits and vegetables can carry these pathogens, they do not originate them. The cantaloupe is not the culprit.
Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria are common bacterial causes of sickness in people. They can contaminate plants such as spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, and melons via animal-based fertilizer, runoff from animal farming operations, and cross-contamination handling, as when a head of lettuce is touched by hands covered with infectious microbes that have been transferred to the hands from contaminated meat, eggs or dairy products. But don’t expect government or industry to trumpet this information.
“There is always a cow in the equation”
It was thus refreshing to read a February 22, 2022 article in the online food science publication Food Safety News, in which the speaker connects contaminated fruits and vegetables with industrialized animal farming. In the article, Bill Marler, an attorney specializing in cases of foodborne illness outbreaks, who in 2008 founded Food Safety News, has this to say:
“If you look at the outbreaks that have occurred in the last decade, specifically with respect to leafy greens, there’s always a cow somewhere in the equation. There’s always a feedlot nearby, or always a dairy farm nearby. And one of the frustrating things for FDA and USDA is being able to do the underlying research, to know that the source of the contamination really was that farm, or really wasn’t. But FDA inspectors cannot go onto cattle farms or feedlots. If we’re going to have ready-to-eat food, we’ve got to really start to think about the environment in which it’s grown.”
One in six
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describing zoonotic diseases, meaning diseases that can spread between human and nonhuman animals under various conditions, observes that “Zoonotic diseases are very common, both in the United States and around the world. Scientists estimate that more than six out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.”
Concerning foodborne diseases, the CDC states that “Each year, one in six Americans get sick from eating contaminated food.” People get sick from eating or drinking “something unsafe, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, undercooked meat or eggs, or raw fruits and vegetables that are contaminated with feces from an infected animal.”
An irony in most discussions of zoonotic diseases is that these diseases, bacterial and viral in particular, are not just transferable from nonhuman animals to humans, but that they are increasingly being transmitted from humans to nonhuman animals by way of the conditions under which humans are forcing nonhuman animals, worldwide, to live.
People make animals sick
Eroding animals’ natural habitats, jostling animals of different species together in unsanitary live animal markets, and confining billions of chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, ducks, fishes and other animals in the cesspools we call factory farms – all of these conditions, including animal-research laboratories, are making animals sick with diseases that carry over into the human population.
In China’s Wet Markets, America’s Factory Farming, Matthew Scully, author of Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, writes that while Western societies don’t normally eat “pangolins, turtles, civets, peacocks, monkeys, horses, foxes, and wolf cubs . . . for the animals we do eat, we have sprawling, toxic, industrial ‘mass-confinement’ farms that look like concentration camps. National ‘herds’ and ‘flocks’ that all would expire in their misery but for a massive use of antibiotics, among other techniques, to maintain their existence amid squalor and disease, [are] an infectious ‘time bomb’ closer to home as bacterial and viral pathogens gain in resistance.”
How do we empower the will?
What Bill Marler calls “the environment” of agriculture starts inside the farmed animal confinement complexes. The misery, squalor, antibiotics and diseases in these places spill out into the surrounding environment contaminating water, fruits and vegetables, and making farm workers sick; these same animal farm elements travel to the supermarket, restaurant, and home, and into people’s mouths, to be spilled back out into the environment in the form of zoonotic diseases that infect human and nonhuman animals and contaminate crops – the crops that are fed to the animals and those that are grown for direct human consumption.
So far, eating misery and the physical manifestations of misery prevails over eating healthy and humane in the habits of humanity. What will it take to bring these habits to a higher standard? We have the knowledge, we have the food; the question is, how do we empower the will?
Learn more: www.upc-online.org/diet.
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Her latest of many books is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl, published by Lantern Books.
Shamsudeen Fagbo's says
Nice write up.
The part ” An irony in most discussions of zoonotic diseases is that these diseases, bacterial and viral in particular, are not just transferable from nonhuman animals to humans, but that they are increasingly being transmitted from humans to nonhuman animals by way of the conditions under which humans are forcing nonhuman animals, worldwide, to live.” is very apt and often not practically considered in work on zoonoses or One Health advocacy. Perhaps this is due to selection by we Homo sapiens. We need to address the ingrained bias.
I’m also shocked Scully implied that western societies don’t normally eat horses.
Merritt Clifton says
Public health veterinarian Shamsudeen Fagbo heads the One Health Unit for the Saudi Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Marilee Meyer says
Thank you for this article, which answers my curiosity as to how salmonella and other animal-connected pathogens end up in cantaloupe, lettuce, and other fruits and vegetables. This is what I suspected, but as you said, it is never mentioned in the news following an outbreak.
Eric Mills, coordinator, ACTION FOR ANIMALS, Oakland, California, USA says
We have live animal food markets nearly identical to those in Wuhan (likely source of COVID19) throughout much of California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, et al.) and much of New York City–disasters waiting to happen.
California annually imports some TWO MILLION non-native American bullfrogs (commercially-raised in Taiwan, China, Brazil, Mexico…) plus an estimated 300,000 freshwater turtles, mostly red-eared sliders and various softshell species, all taken from the wild. Some three dozen necropsies on the market frogs and turtles since the mid-1990’s have documented that ALL are diseased and/or parasitized,. It is ILLEGAL to sell such products, but there is zero law enforcement.
Even more troubling, the majority of the market bullfrogs test positive for a chytrid fungus, Batraqchochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), (62% in one study), responsible for the EXTINCTIONS of some 200 amphibian species worldwide in recent years.
Yet the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife continues to issue the import permits for the frogs and turtles, thereby endangering the environment, the public health and animal welfare.
CONTACT: Chuck Bonham, Director, CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Resources Building, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814; email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Note that the CA State Fish & Game Commission has TWICE voted unanimously to stop the permits, but have been consistently been ignored by the Department. The Commission & Dept. have received more than 3,000 letters & emails in support of the ban, from sporting, environmental and animal welfare organizations, and the general public. The late San Francisco Judge William Newsom (Gavin’s father) submitted a letter in support of the ban, and former Resources Secretary Huey Johnson wrote twice, all to no avail. LEGISLATION AND LAWSUITS ARE LONG OVERDUE.
Mark Caponigro says
Thanks to Karen Davis for explaining how “there is always a cow in the equation.” Like Marilee Meyer, I too was wondering how in the world serious sicknesses could be found in fruits and vegetables. We also notice the limited power of the FDA and the USDA, prevented by the greater power of the animal foods industries from tracing contaminations to their origins in animal agriculture centers.
Let’s read with caution, when we find the word “culprit” thrown about. It is derived from the Latin “culpa,” meaning guilt. “The canteloupe is not the culprit,” of course, but neither is any cow, even if the pathogenic bacteria have their origin in the place where cows live — against their will, held in captivity, exploited, doomed to an early death.
And earlier, Nature News writes, “[Virologist Kristian] Andersen speculates that the culprits could be raccoon dogs.” No, “culprits” is not the right world at all, even if it was the excrement from infected raccoon dogs that passed the developing coronavirus onto other nonhuman animals and eventually humans. Neither the cows, associated with salmonella, nor the raccoon dogs, associated with Covid-19, can at all be called truly “guilty” of anything. Their human handlers, on the other hand, have a lot to answer for.
BTW, SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the organism, a coronavirus, which causes the disease we’re now all familiar with, called Covid-19. They’re not interchangeable. It’s the same relationship as that between HIV and AIDS, the former being the organism, the latter the disease it causes.
Karen Davis says
I agree with Mark that the word “culprit” in this context is inappropriate. I used it tongue-in-cheek regarding cantaloupes/fruits & vegetables. But the term is absolutely inappropriate and unjust applied to the animal victims in the markets and other situations in which they suffer the abuse of human beings. Of course they are not “guilty” and should never be designated as such. They are our innocent victims.
I am glad Mark pointed this out. I also appreciate the information presented in the preface to my article in this post, as well as the comments.
Jamaka Petzak says
Occam’s Razor, indeed. But that is too easy, and too hard, for most.
Sharing with gratitude.
Individuals who come down with e. coli or salmonella don’t want to acknowledge the food connection, either. I’ve known two different individuals who got sick and refused to hear it when I mentioned the word “food”–I didn’t even name animal products specifically, I just said perhaps the restaurant they had eaten at hadn’t cleaned their cooking surfaces or knives correctly. Instead, they accused bottled water and the COVID-19 vaccine, respectively! And medical professionals weren’t helpful either–they simply shrugged it off with a “you can pick this stuff up anywhere,” when you know they must know better than that.
Media outlets are simply reflecting back to viewers what they wish to hear–and make it easier for people to come up with bizarre culprits like the ones I heard. Blame everything under the sun, but heavens, don’t blame meat!