People have accused Canadian singer-songwriter and commercial photographer Bryan Adams of being racist after he posted a coronavirus-inspired rant on social media on Monday, ultimately blaming meat-eating for the pandemic and pushing people to go vegan—all because, like everyone else, he can’t travel right now.
Adams was supposed to perform a string of gigs at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
“Thanks to some fucking bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards, the whole world is now on hold,” Adams wrote on Instagram underneath a video of him performing “Cuts Like A Knife.”
“My message to them other than ‘thanks a fucking lot’ is go vegan.”
Adams is just one of several vegans on social media wrongly linking the coronavirus to meat-eating, an unfounded claim that props up racist attacks against Asians and Asian food.
One vegan influencer with more than 200,000 followers commented on Adams’ Insta post: “Yeah Bryan!!!!”
Adams apologized on Tuesday for “any and all offence” the tweet caused.
“No excuse, I just wanted to have a rant about the horrible animal cruelty in these wet-markets being the possible source of the virus, and promote veganism,” Adams wrote on Instagram. “I have love for all people.
To pin disease outbreaks on eating habits results in a false and overly simplistic understanding of illnesses, according to University of Guelph professor, Amy Greer, who specializes in zoonotic diseases. (Zoonotic diseases travel from animals to humans.)
“Even if we all stopped eating meat, we would still have zoonotic diseases,” Greer said. “Not all zoonotic diseases are transmitted by eating animal products.”
I know most vegans mean well; they’re pushing for healthier lifestyles, smaller carbon footprints, and the kind treatment of animals. But as a vegan myself, I sometimes get embarrassed to admit I genuinely value the lifestyle, especially when plant-based rhetoric isn’t balanced with an understanding of human diversity and human rights.
When the community doubles down on poorly thought out arguments during a pandemic, it’s particularly concerning considering disinformation about COVID-19 continues to proliferate online, and a lot of the posts spread false claims and racist ideas about Chinese food. (It’s also classist to assume everyone can pursue a massive diet change on a whim.)
The pandemic is believed to have started at a meat and seafood market in Wuhan, China, with studies suggesting the virus originated in bats before it jumped to humans. Nowhere does it say the first infected person necessarily ate a bat; rather, theories point to a close physical proximity between animals and humans.
Scientists have also said the virus may have passed from bats to a second animal first, before infecting humans.
People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has also joined the out-of-tune chorus.
“We can’t ignore the link between meat and outbreaks of diseases like COVID-19,” PETA wrote on its website, linking pandemics to slaughterhouses, farms, and crowded food markets around the world.
The decision to use the coronavirus as a way to push for veganism is only PETA’s latest controversial stance. PETA is known for its burning hot takes that often expose vegan culture’s inherent xenophobia, racism, and classism. The organization has come under fire several times for comparing farmed animals to slaves and most recently, a banned PETA Super Bowl ad compared speciesism to racism and even had an eagle take a knee in homage to Colin Kaepernick.
Unlike Adams, PETA doesn’t explicitly say COVID-19 was caused by eating animals, but it repeatedly points out that COVID-19, SARS, MERS, and H1N1 started in animals before jumping to humans.
When VICE asked PETA how it responds to experts who say that veganism wouldn’t stop pandemics, spokesperson Catie Cryar responded: “Raising animals for food in filthy conditions creates breeding grounds for diseases that can be transmitted to humans. While this may not sit well with the person with whom you spoke, this isn't open to debate.”
Cryar added that the closure of live animal markets would “go a long way” in preventing pandemics.
“Wet markets have been identified as an issue because you do have species interacting,” an immunologist, Dr. Michelle Baker, told the The Guardian. But eliminating meat-eating altogether won’t alleviate pandemic risks.
Humans interact with wildlife all the time, Greer said, and the more we encroach on wildlife habitats—through development, for example—the more we engage with them.
“Unless you’re going to get rid of wildlife, which is absolutely crazy, you’re not going to get rid of the risk of zoonotic diseases,” Greer said.
The narratives currently peddled by some vegans lead to the idea that there is a “quick fix” to global health crises, which simply isn’t the case, she added, pointing to a NIPAH virus outbreak in Bangladesh as an example of a zoonotic disease that likely wasn’t transmitted through meat-eating.
In Bangladesh raw date palm juice is tapped from trees similarly to maple syrup, resulting in a sweet, ready-to-drink nectar. Turns out, both humans and bats indulge in the sugary drink, so whenever people would leave spigots in trees to collect sap overnight, bats would appear and drink straight from the tap.
When people started getting sick, scientists discovered that bats likely urinated in the buckets collecting the sap that humans later drank, causing severe illness marked by acute respiratory symptoms and headaches, vomiting, fevers, confusion, and other symptoms that can result from fatal brain inflammation (encephalitis).
“That’s an example of people in the community engaging in a practice they enjoy, creating a plant-based beverage that they enjoy—you still get pathogen spillover from wildlife into humans without eating meat,” Greer said.
Some vegans have also started blaming slaughterhouses—Cargill and JBS beef plants in southern Alberta and the Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota—for furthering the virus, arguing that they’re breeding grounds for disease.
Cargill, a slaughterhouse in High River, Alberta that provides about 40 percent of beef processing in Canada, is home to the worst outbreak in the country, with nearly half of its 2,000-plus workers testing positive for the virus. Three workers have died.
“Can you imagine being so desperate you’re forced to work in a slaughterhouse?” one influencer wrote.
Few can dispute the often horrific practices and conditions in slaughterhouses, and the subsequent need to reimagine meat production so it’s less damaging to the environment and kinder to humans and animals.
But the call for a permanent shutdown of all meat plants during a pandemic fails to account for the people working at the facilities, many of whom are immigrants and not white.
Most of the workers (70 to 80 percent) at Cargill are Filipino temporary foreign workers or permanent residents, and they come to work in Canada from overseas to send money to their families back home, ultimately paying for households, education, and food.
The bigger problem with facilities like Cargill is that essential workers aren’t being protected, Greer said.
Any crowded environment can act as a viral cesspool.
Greer said Canada would likely see COVID-19 outbreaks in downtown Toronto if office workers were deemed essential and weren’t given the tools to maintain physical distancing.
“It doesn’t really matter what job they're doing; there’s a risk in crowded settings,” Greer said. “That’s a public health concern and we need to find ways to protect workers who are deemed essential.”
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This story has been updated with Bryan Adams’ apology.