‘Dead Epidemiologists’. By Rob Wallace.
This article is not a full review of the above book, but it does contain extracts from it. Subtitled; ‘On the origins of Covid19’ it is a collaborative work by specialists in Pandemics, Agroecology, Economics and Virology. It’s author identifies himself as “an evolutionary biologist and health phylogeographer. The many such technical references may indicate a potential difficulty for non-specialist readers.
Nevertheless, from a revolutionary-humanist perspective this book makes an important contribution in understanding the connection between Pandemics, the Capitalist mode of production in general and industrialised food production in particular.
In an early section, a list of 27 previous strains (or variants) of viruses is identified which governments and politicians have failed to recognise as part of a systemic pattern. The author notes that the Pandemic emergency itself is used as a ‘too busy’ excuse for not considering how capitalist economic structures in food production and commerce have unearthed the Covid 19 virus and enabled it’s global spread. Eg.
“…wet market and ‘exotic’ foods are staples in China, as is now industrial production, juxtaposed alongside each other since economic liberalisation, post Mao. …..ostriches, porcupine, crocodile, fruit bats, palm civets…All are treated as food commodities.” (in the section on Notes on a novel virus)
The author makes clear that the interface between huge intensive international agro-industrialised food production, factory farms and outsourced just-in-time local suppliers of livestock products are virus enabling pathways. This means that viruses can originate in many locations globally and be passed on to large-scale food processing factories across continents. The frequent pro-capitalist game of blaming the various places of origin for any virus outbreaks conveniently ignores the fact that the problem lies in the entire food production system, not in any one particular sub-location.
The source problem is further avoided and exacerbated by the fact that those employed by government to deal with outbreaks and their counterparts in academia (ie the “professional managerial class”) are simply acting to ‘clean up the mess after the event’. They also tend to accept existing capitalist economic values and practices rather than critiquing them. Campaigning to end the current pathogen prone system of food production is not even considered by this section of the middle class. In contrast, the author argues that;
“Anyone who aims to understand why viruses are becoming more dangerous must investigate the industrial model of agriculture, and more specifically, livestock production….few governments and few scientists are prepared to do so.” (Interview section)
This is why so much mainstream government and media analysis of the Pandemic is based upon superficial considerations and on solving immediate Covid 19 infections. Yet even at this superficial level the preventative measures have been the epidemic equivalent of donning condoms after sexual intercourse rather than before. Ordering workers back into crowded factories and keeping factories open during Pandemic lock downs was not cutting off viral transmission. Eight hour shifts in enclosed spaces is ideal for viruses carried on aerosol droplets or other particles before being inhaled into workers lungs. Indeed the author suggests;
“Working people are treated as cannon fodder”. (and thus need to) “..find a way to wrestle operative command from the greedy and incompetent.”
“Agri-business as a mode of social reproduction must be ended for good. Highly capitalised production of food depends upon practices that endanger the entirety of humanity….food systems (should) be socialised in such a way that pathogens this dangerous are kept from emerging in the first place.” (ibid)
The obvious government failures revealed when the Pandemic broke out didn’t just commence when it started in 2020/2019 but years earlier when the neo – liberal economic model of just in time supply chains were introduced and imposed upon countries. Indeed;
“The failures were actually programmed decades ago as the shared commons of public health were simultaneously neglected and monetised. “
But of course the whole point of commodifying and monetising everything possible – including public services – is to enable the owners of capital to reap the profits and interest from the intensive exploitation of animal, human, vegetable and mineral resources. However, the social and financial pollutant ‘side effects’ are passed on to everyone else. For;
“..the private control of production remains entirely focused on profit. The damages caused by the outbreaks that result are externalised to livestock, crops, wildlife, workers, local and national governments, public health systems and alternative agrosystems abroad.” (section: Covid19 and the Circuits of Capital)
Of course the greed for profit means that capitalist production must be constant and as rapid as possible. Industrial livestock rearing is no different and animals such as pigs and chickens are intensively reared and profitably ‘processed’ quickly from birth to slaughter and sale. Global investors know this and so with an eye to pig and poultry farming;
“Goldman Sach took 60% stock in Shuanguhi Investment and Development, part of the giant agribusiness that bought US based Smithfield Foods, the largest hog producer in the world. For $300 million, it also scored out-and-out ownership of ten poultry farms in Fujian and Hunan, one province over from Wuhan and well within the city’s wild foods catchment. It invested up to another $300 million alongside Deutsch Bank in hog raising in the same provinces.” (ibid)
Not surprisingly, American and European investors are deeply embroiled in their own and other countries virus-producing commodity chains. Intensive farming, in particular, not only destroys natural habitats, but the use of bio-chemicals as fertilisers or as animal medications, kills insects, damages gut flora and increases crop or animal disease transmission. It also creates continuous high volumes of waste material (and excrement) which of course are huge reservoirs for pathogen development and spread. For example;
“Whole counties in the United States are dedicated to the production of industrial food animals. …the state of Iowa, a centre for livestock and poultry production, is an epicentre for nitrogen, phospherous, and total solid waste. It’s North Raccoon , Floyd and Little Souix watersheds, home to 350,000 people,…host the waste equivalent of Tokyo, New York City and Mexico City combined….cutting Iowa’s clean rivers in half, polluting private water wells with nitrate and fecal coliform bacteria and producing nation – leading emissions in fine particulate ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate and hydrogen sulfide.” (section: The origins of industrial agricultural pathogens)
It is important to remember that Covid19 is not an isolated event, it is merely one newly identified symptom of a global capitalist system which is damaging air, water, sea, land and killing insect, animal and human populations. So until the capitalist system is changed, if this virus doesn’t get us, one or other of the symptoms probably will.
Roy Ratcliffe (March 2021)
[The book ‘Dead Epidemiologists’. By Rob Wallace is priced at £4.95p and available from online book stores and at MR online, via monthlyreview.org ]