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The coronavirus, which is believed to be linked to a live wild animal and seafood market in Wuhan, has renewed global attention on the public health dangers of meat consumption. A new report by market data firm Nielsen shows that consumer habits are responding to these concerns, with plant-based meat sales skyrocketing by 280% and amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A new report conducted by Nielsen shows that consumer habits are shifting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic with sales of vegan meat jumping by a staggering 280% in the second week of March compared to the same period last year in the United States. In the week before that, sales of plant-based meat increased by 206%.
While the coronavirus pandemic has recast a light on the public safety hazard of the cruel and exploitative wild animal trade, the figures of soaring vegan meat sales reflects broader concerns about the dangers of animal meat consumption. Industrial livestock farming involving animals being kept in close confinement and killed in large numbers are prime hotbeds for potentially deadly diseases like the coronavirus, which can be passed onto humans.
The current Covid-19 disease is just the most recent in a long history of zoonotic diseases that have jumped from animals to humans. Among some of the disease outbreaks linked to animals include SARS, MERS and the H1N1 swine flu.
Besides posing the danger of disease outbreaks, modern meat production costs the planet. It is estimated that animal agriculture – livestock rearing, cattle ranching, dairy farming, factory farmed eggs – contributes as much as 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than all types of transportation combined, and does not yet factor in land and water inefficiencies and soil contamination from industrial runoff.
But even before the coronavirus pandemic, consumers had begun to wake up to the shaky animal meat supply chain. The African swine fever (ASF) outbreak, for instance, wiped out an estimated 50% of global pork supplies, hitting China especially hard and led to a sharp rise in overall pork prices.
Already reeling from ASF, the reports of a highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 avian flu emerging in China is doing further damage to chicken slaughterhouses that have already been inundated due to coronavirus transportation restrictions.
David Yeung, founder of Hong Kong plant-based social enterprise Green Monday and plant-based retailer and restaurant chain Green Common believes all these concerns combined is the reason why vegan meat is now having a moment, despite the overall negative market sentiment brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In a recent interview, Yeung explained that the “triple threat of coronavirus, ASF and avian flu fully exposes the vulnerability of the protein supply chain,” and that consumers will respond to it by choosing healthier and safer plant-based alternatives.
Perhaps what the coronavirus pandemic has inadvertently led to is an opportunity to transform the current unsustainable food supply into one that is plant-centric, leaving far less of an impact on our climate-stricken planet.
A flicker of hope about the potential for a global plant-based shift due to the coronavirus is already coming from China, where global travel restrictions from Western countries now battling the worst of the pandemic has led to a shortage of imported premium meat and dairy supplies, prompting a number of Chinese consumers to rethink their choices in favour of local and plant-based.
Read our earlier news coverage of Covid-19 here.
Lead image courtesy of Beyond Meat.