Fact check: Is COVID-19 caused by human consumption of animals?


Matthew Brown, USA Today

Mar 18, 2020


The claim: The coronavirus pandemic resulted from human consumption of animals.


On March 15, vegan influencer Ed Winters, who often goes by the name “Earthling Ed” on social media, posted a graphic to his Instagram account stating that “COVID-19 was caused by eating animals.” "The new coronavirus pandemic would not have started if we didn’t farm and eat animals," Winters wrote.


The post lists several other diseases that reached epidemic and pandemic levels, and it asserts that "the one thing they all have in common is that they started because of our exploitation of #animals." The graphic on the post concludes that “COVID-19 would not exist if the world was vegan. Your personal choice to eat animals impacts every living being on this planet."


The graphic, which has received more than 66,000 likes and 3,000 comments on Winters' Instagram account, was reposted to @cowspiracy, another Instagram account, where it also went viral. @Cowspiracy advocates for veganism –  including promoting the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” – and advocates for other pro-animal rights policies. On the @Cowspiracy account, the post in question has more than 27,000 likes and 1,000 comments, as of this writing.


@Cowspiracy has about 475,000 followers on Instagram. Winters’ Instagram account has about 387,000 followers and roughly 247,000 on his YouTube channel.


When USA TODAY reached to Winters for comment, he provided further context and detail to his claim. “Of course, many zoonotic diseases are unrelated to our exploitation of animals, and being vegan wouldn’t completely eliminate all of them, (Zika virus) being a prime example.” Winters, however, provided a study co-written by the World Health Organization that found some behaviors associated with eating meat can be risk factors in the rise of new diseases.


Winters also connected the prevalence of diseases like HIV, Ebola and Nipah virus to eating bushmeat. He also cited the rising threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the World Health Organization has linked to overuse of antibiotics in the production of animal products.


Winters also told USA TODAY: “Again, not all zoonotic diseases are created because we exploit animals, however it is undeniable that the exploitation of animals creates environments where the likelihood of spillovers occurring is significantly increased, and if we weren’t using animals for food we wouldn’t have created situations where many of these diseases, including the latest coronavirus, were passed to humans.”


Humans, animals and zoonotic diseases ...


Our ruling: Partly false ...


Our fact-check sources ... 


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