12 September 2021

The Unemployed Epidemiologist Who Predicted the Pandemic

For years, Rob Wallace warned that industrial agriculture could cause deadly outbreaks at a global scale. It made him an exile in his field.

In early March 2020, Rob Wallace, an evolutionary biologist who had been adrift after an unceremonious exit from the University of Minnesota, flew to New Orleans and then got on a bus to Jackson, Miss., where he was scheduled to speak at an event on health and racial injustice. Wallace, who turned 50 this summer, has been studying and writing about infectious diseases and their origins for half his life. For almost as long, he’s been warning that the practices of industrial agriculture would lead to a deadly pandemic on the scale of Covid-19—or worse.

When thousands of the same breed of animal are raised in crowded conditions, the lack of biodiversity creates “an ecology nigh perfect for the evolution of multiple virulent strains of influenza,” Wallace wrote. Farms built near dwindling primary forests where zoonotic pathogens reside have inadvertently “empowered the pathogens to be their very best selves,” he told me. “You strip out the complexity of forest that had been keeping these pathogens bottled up, and you let them have a nice straight shot to the major cities, which gives them opportunities to multiply themselves. This all increases transmission and increases virulence.”

Read this article, published in The Nation, Aug. 30, 2021:

The Epidemiologist Who Predicted the Pandemic

Caged hens and egg conveyors in a factory farm.

(VW Pics via Getty Images). This photo of a battery-caged hen facility appears in The Nation, Aug. 30, 2021. – United Poultry Concerns