Researcher warns urgent action needed to combat 'perfect storm' for pandemics

Vaccination passports could help fight the spread of future pandemics Credit: PA

A researcher has warned that we need to urgently reduce the amount of meat and dairy products we consume - if we want to avoid further deadly pandemics.

Professor Cock van Oosterhout, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich also warned that the world's vast population of people, pets and livestock, and the pressure we put on wildlife habitats, have created the "perfect storm" for global contagions.

Writing in the science journal Virulence Prof van Oosterhout he also called for vaccine passports to help control the evolution and transmission of diseases such as the virus that causes Covid-19.

Prof Cock van Oosterhout issued the warning in a scientific journal Credit: UEA

In the editorial he argued for the need to halt the loss of natural habitats in wildlife-rich areas, to reduce human-wildlife conflict and prevent diseases spilling over into people and livestock.

He said: "We humans have been living in a non-sustainable way over the past few centuries.

The article highlights how the total biological mass of the world's livestock is more than 10 times higher than that of all wildlife combined, but the genetic diversity is far below what is needed.

Genetic variation is critical to counter the evolution of infectious diseases. He says urgent action is needed to restore the genetic diversity of farmed and domestic animals, as livestock has become a "sitting duck" in an arms race with emerging infectious diseases.

Cutting back on meat and dairy products could combat future pandemics

And he warned people need to cut back on meat and dairy to reduce livestock numbers, pointing to how methane from cattle and sheep contributes to global warming and to the dangers of antibiotic resistance, as well as the risk of pandemics.

He also backed the use of vaccine passports - and said compulsory vaccination may need to be considered - to break transmission chains and stop variants evolving.

He said humans were not immune to the evolution of pathogens, warning "Our society is facing significant threat, and we all need to do what we can both at an individual and societal level to improve our long term prospects as a species. These changes need to be implemented globally to effectively combat pandemics," he added.