An Open Letter to Nonvegans About Bird Flu

By on June 10, 2024

The next pandemic, the H5N1 bird flu virus, has officially jumped to mammals, including humans—a Michigan dairy worker and a Texas farmer—and to cows. The virus has been confirmed in 80 dairy herds in 10 states since March. Dairy cows in five states have died or been slaughtered by farmers.

Perhaps even more concerning, it’s jumped to cow’s milk and meat: the tissue of a dairy cow who was sent to slaughter tested positive for traces of the bird flu virus, the USDA announced.

Historically, three out of four global pandemics have come from using, exploiting, encroaching on and/or eating nonhuman animals. Notable ones include Ebola, SARS, Swine flu (H1N1), the previous avian influenza strain (H5N2) and AIDS.

Why is this the case? For one, concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms, are breeding grounds for diseases and worrisome mutations. These models of efficiency cram tens of thousands of animals in confined spaces; the more density, the more profit for farmers meeting the consumer’s desire for animal bodies and secretions.

These animals live in squalor, filth and waste. They live among the dead bodies of their companions. They are fed the cheapest diets possible. They are denied veterinary care. Farming operations, like any business, must maintain productivity, and that means cutting corners wherever they can.

More than 10 billion animals are consumed each year in the United States alone, not counting trillions of fishes. We simply do not have the land and resources on so-called small or family farms to support such gluttonous consumption of flesh and secretions.

Viruses are opportunistic, spreading and morphing to take advantage of any potential host, which now includes cows. In one study, 20 percent of supermarket dairy products tested positive for bird flu. You and your children are possibly drinking milk that has been infected.

Authorities tell us not to worry—pasteurizing kills off bird flu. Avoid raw milk, and you’ll be fine. Please continue to consume eggs and dairy and beef. It’s totally safe. Until it’s not.

Bear in mind we’re trusting a federal government that is in the pocket of Big Ag to protect the public from diseases caused by Big Ag. The government provides more than $50 billion a year in subsidies to animal agriculture, and is literally mandated to protect corporate ag interests. 

Farms and farmers have not been asked to test animals until just recently, because it’s easier, and more profitable, to cull (kill) entire herds or flocks and have the government subsidize the financial cost. In 2023, the USDA paid poultry farmers more than half a billion dollars for the turkeys, chickens and egg-laying hens who were killed after the flu strain, H5N1, was detected on their farms. For example, Jennie-O Turkey Store received more than $88 million and Tyson Foods was paid close to $30 million.

More than 82 million farmed birds have been culled since February 2022. By compensating farmers handsomely for their losses, with no strings attached, the federal government is encouraging poultry growers to continue the practices that create the risk of contagion, increasing the need for future culling and reimbursement.

If the government is correct and it’s not very serious yet, it sure seems to be heading in that direction. It’s entirely possible Donald Trump will lead the team managing this next pandemic. (The last pandemic during his leadership did not go so well.)

Until then, if you remain concerned about food safety and preventing the next pandemic, and want to protect yourself and your family’s health, don’t wait for the government and Big Ag to decide what’s best for you. You can take action now: stop eating meat. Stop eating dairy. Stop eating eggs. If we significantly reduce demand for animal products, we can reduce the stress on farming systems that have led to such appalling, inhumane conditions where zoonotic diseases like H5N1 can flourish and evolve into ever-worsening public health threats.

Of course, going vegan won’t guarantee you won’t catch this or any flu, but you might find you’ll sleep better at night knowing you aren’t personally enabling the next pandemic.


  1. Jack
    June 10, 2024

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    Good one!

  2. W
    June 10, 2024

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    This was written very well. Concise and factual with just the right amount of emotion. Well done.

  3. Ruby
    June 13, 2024

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