The World’s Most Expensive Coffee Requires Animal Cruelty — and Could Lead to the Next Pandemic
Bustling civet cat attractions are breeding grounds for disaster.
This may seem hard to swallow, but the world’s most expensive coffee is made out of poop. Kopi luwak comes from coffee beans digested and excreted by the Asian palm civet, also called the civet cat or luwak, and sells for about $600 a pound.
If you wouldn’t drink “cat poop coffee” if your life depended on it — well, it just might. Civet cats, which are commonly sold at the now-infamous Chinese wildlife markets where COVID-19 is thought to have originated, are linked to a host of human diseases. Yet alarmingly, bustling tourist attractions across Bali, Indonesia, hold these animals captive for profit, reveals an investigation by my organization, Lady Freethinker.
At kopi luwak tourist traps, our investigator found these cat-like, nocturnal mammals locked in small, barren-wire cages and kept awake during the day by noisy, gawking crowds. Allowing hundreds of people to interact with stressed, potentially disease-carrying animals is bad enough, but behind closed doors, the problem gets much worse.
Though not accessible to the general public, the farms that produce most of the coffee sold at these attractions are the source of torture for the captive animals and could be catastrophic for human health.
At one backyard farm, our investigator discovered caged civets, roosters, porcupines and even dogs stacked on top of each other with barely enough room to move. The roosters and dogs were likely headed to slaughter, or possibly fated for religious sacrifice.
These unsanitary conditions are particularly concerning because civets are linked to the first pandemic of the 21st century: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which is thought to have jumped from bat to civet to human.
In 2003, “SARS infected over 8,000 people worldwide and killed almost 800,” before the virus was contained. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has already stolen more lives than that. These deaths might have been prevented had we learned from our past mistakes to realize that caging animals can result in the spread of viruses and can lead to killing humans.
“Our research has shown that the SARS coronavirus found in human victims is the same as the SARS coronavirus found in civet cats,” said Wang Ming, an official from the Guangzhou Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. “This discovery proves that civet cats are capable of spreading the SARS virus to human beings.”
These animals, who are nocturnal and rarely come into contact with humans in the wild, are also known to carry distemper, rabies, avian influenza H5N1 (bird flu), parvovirosis, Bartonella henselae (cat-scratch disease) and others. Worse yet, stressed animals are more likely to “express” their illnesses.
“Human activities are causing this,” said professor of wildlife epidemiology at the Zoological Society of London, Andrew Cunningham, speaking of bats and their relation to coronavirus. “We believe that the impact of stress on bats would be very much as it would be on people. It would allow infections to increase and to be excreted — to be shed.”
“You can think of it like if people are stressed and have the cold sore virus, they will get a cold sore. That is the virus being ‘expressed.’ This can happen in bats too,” Cunningham added.
Bats aren’t the only animals who express viruses — all animals do. And civets are subjected to extremely stressful environments. They’re locked in tiny cages all day, kept awake when they’d naturally be sleeping, and force-fed coffee cherries. Their inadequate diets do not help fend off illnesses, and the overdose of caffeine stimulates these poor creatures into panicked frenzies.
The kopi luwak industry is bringing civets, with all the diseases they potentially carry, and humans close together in unnatural conditions — a perfect recipe for a cataclysmic cocktail. Was the global SARS outbreak that took place less than 20 years ago so easily forgotten?
For travel giant TripAdvisor, the dangers of civet farms aren’t hazardous enough to stop selling tickets to these kopi luwak “tours,” which are easily bookable on their website.
When it comes to the civet trade, animal suffering could turn into human tragedy in the blink of an eye. This industry is not just deplorable from an animal welfare perspective but maybe is silently breeding the next pandemic.
As long as consumers are willing to pay to drink kopi luwak and participate in tours, civet cats will continue to suffer due to this needless novelty industry — and one day, the world could pay a hefty price for this.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.