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America's factory farms are just as bad as we think any wet market is. We can't point fingers.

While the United States blames China's wet markets, we've got a meat problem of our own: filthy, overcrowded factory farms.

America's factory farms are just as bad as we think any wet market is. We can't point fingers.
Image Source: ArtistGNDphotography / Getty Images

When the Coronavirus outbreak first hit the United States, those in the South East Asian community quickly became collateral damage. In addition to President Donald Trump calling the novel illness the "China virus," regions across the country bore witness to a spike in xenophobia. As Chinese restaurants closed down and complaints of racist attacks hit a new, unprecedented high, we also turned our attention to wet markets, open marketplaces popular in South East Asian countries (and elsewhere) where people buy and sell fresh meat, fish, and other produce. We tore into the practice, blaming these markets for the pandemic that ensued after we learned the virus could have originated from bats, considered a delicacy, sold in a Wuhan wet seafood market. Here's the thing: Our meat factory farms are equally if not more "unhygienic" as these wet markets are thought to be.



In the United States, we have strikingly high rates at which outbreaks of infectious food poisoning occur, EcoWatch reports. As per data from the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 48 million people in the country suffer from foodborne illnesses every year. About 128,000 people will be hospitalized and 3,000 will die as a result. These numbers are higher than our developed counterparts in the European Union and the United Kingdom. While the federal government has tried to regulate these meat factory farms, many of them are still unsanitary. Due to general government oversight, these farms are cramped, filthy, and home to thousands of stressed-out animals and workers.




It is these poor sanitary conditions that lead to bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella to live in the intestinal tracts of livestock. These bacteria, which go undetected during the slaughtering process, are ultimately passed on to consumers. Not only do the factory farms' unclean and crowded conditions result in transmission between livestock, but they also increase the risk of transmission from the farm's animals to its workers. In one study of 47 meat plants across the United States, investigators found violations that they described as "deeply worrying." One dataset, which comprised 13 large red meat and poultry plants between the years 2015 and 2017, discovered an average of more than 150 food safety and hygiene violations a week, and 15,000 violations over the entire period. If you're wondering what these violations included, investigators found, of course, unsanitary factory conditions, but they also detected meat contaminated with blood, septicemic disease, and feces.


So if all this is true of our very own meat supply chain, who are we to label wet markets unhygienic? We wouldn't dare think of closing down or banning our factory farms, so why is it that we feel comfortable calling for a ban on Chinese wet markets? Earlier this month, more than 60 US lawmakers came together to call for a global ban on these markets. However, their concerns are simply misplaced. "This call for a ban comes from cultural differences often mixed with prejudice," Kartini Samon, a Jakarta-based advocate with the nonprofit Grain, explained in an interview with The Guardian. "Wet markets are very common and have a long history in many places in Asia." She has studied wet markets in the region and believes regulation is the answer.




Just like in the United States, we wouldn't ban our factory farms, however, we do acknowledge the need to regulate them. Dirk Pfeiffer, chair professor at City University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences in Hong Kong, stated, "I do think that wet markets are an issue when it comes to food safety standards and to adverse environmental impact. But that can be dealt with by regulation and raising awareness among consumers and traders. We need to focus on changing the demand because as long as that is there it will be a way for people to trade in wild animals and their products."



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