This Pandemic and the Ones to Come: Mike Davis’ “The Monster Enters”

The Monster Enters, by Mike Davis, published this week, is a warning for future generations.  It is a must-read if we are understand our current predicament.  COVID-19 (SARS-Cov-2) is just the latest in a series of pandemics and near-pandemics that are becoming more frequent and more virulent.  Davis makes clear that the world is ill-prepared to deal with them.

His first chapter reviews the debacle of the past six months and America’s failure to cope compared with other rich nations. With just four percent of the world’s population, the United States can now boast roughly twenty-five percent of COVID-19 cases and resulting deaths.  Davis blames President Donald Trump and his “supporters,” among them ignorant Republicans who failed to respond quickly to the onset of pandemic in spite of warnings and the lead of other nations like China.  Davis describes the reasons for this difference and lays out what governments elsewhere have done to control the spread.

The first 44 pages appear to have been written in 2020.  The remainder of the book is a reprise/reprint of his 2005 The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, which foresaw the disaster now upon us.  Since 2005, the world’s population has increased from 6.5 to 7.8 billion people, an increase of 20%, and tens of millions of people have relocated to intensely dense cities, especially in Asia, all of which has added to the threat of pandemic and which makes Davis’ 2005 warning only more prescient.

The book is surprisingly up to date, however, in providing stories of past failures to address the threat of pandemics, the damage pandemics cause, especially in poor nations, and the failure of the world’s political establishments and medical and pharmaceutical industries to prepare for the potential severity of future pandemics.

What’s most enlightening is that The Monster Enters covers animal sources of disease: bats mingling with domestic chickens and ducks and pigs.  Davis explains how large-scale industrial production of meat animals for an increasingly ravenous world population has been a pathway of the spread of disease.   Industrial animal agriculture, combined with the densification of the human population and the globalization of travel networks, makes the spread of COVID-19 much more effective.

One of the stories he tells centers on the ruthlessness and greed of corporate poultry farms in southeast Asia that grow millions of chickens each year and how a single company, Bangkok-based Charoen Pokphand, monopolized production – and political-economic power – to establish a multi-billion-dollar Asian empire that forced small chicken farmers to work with under its thumb or face poverty.  Small farmers eventually became effective slaves to Charoen Pokphand, working off high cost loans that they could never pay back.

Chickens, writes Davis, are “the bottom line of Asia’s largest and most powerful agricultural- export conglomerate,” Charoen Pokphand.  “CP, as it is universally known, figures centrally in the story of H4N1’s terrifying return in the winter of 2003-2004 and the unprecedented HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] that threatens to become a global human and ecological cataclysm.”

Asian governments knew about the H4N1 pandemic, following the mysterious death of hundreds of thousands of chickens.  Davis continues: “Strangely, in the midst of all these bird deaths, the corporate chicken-processing plants were working overtime.  As angry trade unionists at one factory just outside the capital told the Bangkok Post after the scandal broke: ‘Before November we were processing about 90,000 chickens a day.  But from November to 23 January of 2004 we had to kill about 130,000 daily.  It’s our job to cut the birds up.  It was obvious they were ill: their organs were swollen.  We didn’t know what the disease was, but we understood that management was rushing to process the chickens before getting any veterinary inspection.  We stopped eating [chicken] in October.’”

According to Davis, the Bush and Clinton Administrations knew about the dangerous practices of CP. The Bushes invested in the company; the Clintons were paid off via an illegal donation to the Democratic National Committee but were caught.

Davis also describes how related industrial animal producers, solely to maintain revenues, slaughtered and sold diseased poultry for six months in 2004 before regulators discovered this behavior and put a stop to it – but not before millions of people worldwide consumed the diseased chickens.

The medical profession has been reporting these issues for forty years but politicians refuse to invest the money to protect the public.  This has left us desperately unprepared for the monster at the door, as we have seen in the United States, with our catastrophic failure to respond to COVID-19.  The pharmaceutical industry, with their huge profits and their political contributions (amounting to bribes), has severely hampered preparation. For Big Pharma, always seekingprofit, there is no incentive in developing vaccines that annually require the world to store billions of treatments and which have to be tweaked every year to respond to whatever virus might affect the world’s population.  There have been proposals in Congress to push pharmaceutical corporations to force a response to annual virus types.  Taxpayers are currently paying these corporations to do so – but again, the profit motive gets in the way, as other drugs produce huge profits but vaccine development does not.

The failed history of the United States in particular to respond to COVID-19 was predictable.  We lacked government leadership from the get-go.  The failure of the Trump Administration to take the pandemic seriously may result in the death of hundreds of thousands if not millions of deaths in the United States alone.  Blood is on Trump’s hands.  Davis concludes that the worst is yet to come and that the monster has much more in store.