The GuardianThe Guardian

Be warned: The next deadly pandemic is not inevitable, but all the elements are in place

By George Monbiot

08 Feb 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

We keep farm animals in pretty dire conditions. Could our treatment of these animals lead to another global pandemic? The Guardian argues that all the factors are in place.

If you wanted to kill as many people as possible, deniably and with no criminal consequences, what would you do? You’d do well to start with a bird flu. Bird flus are responsible for all the known flu pandemics: the great influenza that started more than a century ago, “Asian flu”, “Hong Kong flu” and “Russian flu”, which killed tens of millions between them. They also cause many of the annual outbreaks that slaughter hundreds of thousands of people.

Once you have found a suitable variant, two further components are required to weaponise it. The first is an amplifier. The best amplifier is a giant shed or factory in which thousands of birds are packed. These birds should be genetically homogenous, so that your viral strain can travel freely between them. Intensive poultry farms would serve very well. Before long, a low-pathogenic strain should mutate in these circumstances into a highly pathogenic variety.

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