Director Marie-Monique Robin is coming to present her film “The factory of pandemics” in preview in the Occitanie region. She will be in Montpellier on Thursday 12 May, Céret on the 13th and Toulouse on the 14th for views debate.
Marie-Monique Robin is a journalist and director. She especially signed “The World According to Monsanto” and “Round-Up to Her Judges”. “The Pandemic Factory” is his latest book. She explains where pandemics come from and what our collective responsibility is in their appearance.
A very complete study in which she interviews 62 scientists and from which she has drawn a documentary which she comes to present in the region in preview. It will be on Thursday 12 May at 8 pm in the Diagonal cinema in Montpellier, Friday 13 May at 8 pm in the Cérétan cinema in Céret, Saturday, May 14 at 4 pm in the Utopia Tournefeuille cinema Toulouse and at 20:00 in the Cinema Utopia Borderouge in Toulouse. She gave us an interview.
France 3. We are on the brink of an epidemic of pandemics. Do the scientists you interview formally confirm this?
Yes. For the book, I interviewed 62. I kept 14 for the film. They have been working for more than 20-30 years on this issue of the link between the destruction of biodiversity and the emergence of infectious diseases.
The list is actually very long before Covid-19. There was Ebola, AIDS which is a zoonosis, that is, a disease of animal origin, but also the first SARS, zika, chikungunya, MERS-coV, West Nile virus, etc. We say new diseases because they did not exist before, and they originate from wild animals.
What scientists are showing is that these emergencies are due to the destruction of biodiversity, especially in tropical areas, primary forests. These are areas where there is a lot of wildlife.
These are “hot spots” of biodiversity where there are a lot of microorganisms that can be attached to certain animals that are considered reservoirs. They are actually healthy carriers that carry viruses without getting sick. The main reservoirs are in order rodents, primates and bats.
And what scientists say is that when we disturb the balance that exists in these tropical natural spaces (road construction, large-scale soybean crops, oil palms, or livestock), we break the balance and we endanger ourselves.
France 3. What you show in the film is that biodiversity protects humans …
This is called the dilution effect. This ecological mechanism was brought to light by two American scientists featured in the film. They worked on lyme disease. It is transmitted by ticks, which become infected on an animal reservoir. This reservoir is always the same rodent.
What these scientists have shown is that this rodent is called the white-footed mouse. It is part of the “generalists”, that is, it adapts to any environment, it eats anything, and it multiplies a lot. Unlike so-called “specialists” animals, which are linked to organic niches, which multiply more slowly and are greatly affected by the destruction of natural habitats because they are linked to certain food sources for example.
These researchers have shown that when a forest is fragmented, it first displaces predators such as foxes or lynx, which control the population of rodents because they no longer have enough space to live. And then it starts with other “specialist” species whose environment we change. Then the white-footed mice that adapt themselves to the disturbances generated by humans will spread. So the probability that a tick feeds on a white-footed mouse is higher because their density is higher.
If, on the other hand, we have an intact forest where there are all kinds of animals, mammals, birds that are not “competent” to transmit the virus, the likelihood of the tick becoming infected with its blood meal is greatly reduced. This is called the dilution effect. it works against Lyme disease, but it also works against many other diseases.
The more biodiversity we have, the more we reduce the risk of infection. This also applies to mosquitoes. I often give the example of Guyana. Out of 650 species of mosquitoes, only two are dangerous to humans and are adapted to bite them. They can transmit dengue fever, chikungunya, zika, malaria, juvenile fever, etc.
But when you have 650 species around you, the likelihood of being bitten by these two is low. So it is a very important mechanism to understand because we can clearly see that biodiversity protects health.
We could say to ourselves: we will ravage the entire tropical forest so that once we have exterminated all bats, rodents, primates, we will get rid of them. This is false because we would put ourselves in great danger. In fact, we need to leave them alone.
France 3. There is also this globalization that you are highlighting that allows the virus to move around the planet very quickly, right?
Yes Serge Morand, a CNRS researcher that I filmed in Thailand, says that there are 3 recurring factors: deforestation, intensive agriculture and globalization, which we illustrate with the example of the nipah virus in the film. On the island of Borneo we felled forest to plant oil palms. We have displaced bats that live on this island. They are healthy carriers of nipah, but as they have been stressed, they are excreted, become immunocompromised and become infected. It is in this state that they take refuge on the shores of Malaysia. They stay on mango tree plantations because they are frugal. Their excrement contaminates the pigs raised under these trees and eats the mangoes. They die in large numbers because this virus is very deadly.
The agricultural workers on these pig farms, in turn, become polluted and die. In Malaysia, a Muslim country, they do not eat pigs. They are dedicated to import. Direction Singapore, where the workers at the slaughterhouses where these pigs are slaughtered, die in shifts. We can clearly see the three elements: deforestation, intensive agriculture (which is a reinforcing element because a virus that comes from a bat is never transmitted directly to humans) and globalization.
The numbers given by Serge Morand are incredible: 400 million people took the plane in the 70s and today 4 billion 300 million … And it’s not just people who are moving. Everything moves. In all directions. Most epidemics were local, but what has changed is extreme globalization.
France 3. In the film, you also address the issue of poverty. It’s central, why?
We understand very well the story of the lemurs that are threatened with extinction in Madagascar, of which it is an endemic population: they are only found there. There are 114 species. 90% are threatened with extinction. We see it in the picture, the forest is destroyed in Madagascar by 90%. That’s why we’re talking about umbrella or guard posts … If the forest is destroyed, it’s harmful to the climate, to the lemurs and to us.
But biodiversity cannot be protected if poverty is not curbed. people continue to clear the forest because they need the wood for cooking or making charcoal. So you have to go around the alternatives and there are some. But at the moment, there is pressure on all national parks everywhere, all reserves, because people simply have to eat. This issue of poverty is crucial. That’s part of one of the keys to the problem.
France 3. What can we each do at our level that is relevant to what you are showing?
I always give the example of meat because a large part of the deforestation is due to monocultures that are intended to feed intensive livestock farming. So you should eat less meat, and if you eat it, choose local organic meat from cattle that are not fed transgenic soybeans from Argentina. That’s what I’ve shown in other movies like “Round-Up to His Judges”. Millions of tons of soybeans are imported from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, which pass through the port of Lorient and go to feed intensive pig farms in Brittany, for example.
It is clear that if politicians had a holistic vision, a global vision, they would stop encouraging the import of soybeans from Latin America, because we know that when we do, we are calling for deforestation. We contribute directly to climate change, the eradication of biodiversity and the emergence of communicable diseases. Everything is connected.
So citizens can already now make this choice to eat only local meat. But it is also up to the politicians to say to themselves: it is not possible to continue. You need to reconnect. We can no longer import thousands of tonnes of palm oil, as we currently do with Indonesia, neither to put in diesel, as Total does in its Bouches-du-Rhône refineries, nor to put in agri-food products.
There is talk of signing a free trade agreement with the Latin American countries, Mercosur. There is a clause allowing the importation of Brazilian beef. Beef, no! We produce this. And the one that comes from Brazil, we cut down forest to feed it.
Also for us, I discuss it in the book’s chapter 5, we must protect biodiversity: stop felling trees, build parking lots, industrial zones, etc. Our children grow up in very different environments. They are not in contact with nature and anything that can allow them to stimulate their immune system, especially in the beginning of life with rich microbiota. They have more allergies, asthma, diseases like Crohn’s disease and are more likely to develop severe forms of covid for example.
The challenge is to protect biodiversity. In France, in Europe, 80% of the insects have disappeared, we have fewer insects for pollination, bees, let’s not talk about it, birds, it’s a disaster. We must protect biodiversity because it is our common home.
The movie “The factory of www.agencef.com es pandemics” will also be broadcast on May 22 on Ushuaïa TV, on May 23 on France TV Outremer. Anyone can contact Agence F (www.agencef.com) to arrange debate screenings in cinemas and municipal halls.