Russell Simmons has faced online criticism after sharing a meme saying the coronavirus would not exist if the world was vegan.
The coronavirus, which is understood to have originated from a wet market in Wuhan, China in December last year, has spread globally, killing almost 70,000 at the time of writing.
Coronavirus and eating animals
Simmons shared a meme on Instagram saying: "COVID-19 was caused by eating animals. Ebola, swine flu, bird flu, HIV, SARS, and vCJD were caused by eating animals.
"COVID-19 would not exist if the world was vegan. 'Your personal choice' to eat animals impacts every living being on this planet."
'Elephant in the room'
Simmons' caption alongside the meme said: "Eating animals is horrible unconscious behavior...Even as I catch up on the debate, I see the talk of climate change with both candidates ignoring the elephant in the room.
"How can they discuss climate change w/out discussing the emissions from the animals? FACT...The cause of this virus, the number one cause of cancer, and CLIMATE change is the abuse and eating of animals. PLEASE STOP EATING ANIMALS."
One respondent criticized the post simply saying: "This is extremely insensitive."
Another added: "At the moment we just want to get better please stop at this point."
"In a time of crisis, criticize people's eating habits? Nice move. REAL classy," another said.
Simmons, a vegan, was also accused of 'pushing an agenda' by several commentators, one of whom said: "Please don’t lose it by trying to scare people into being vegan."
The meme Simmons posted was initially shared by vegan activist Earthling Ed - and went on to become the topic of some controversy, after media outlet USA Today branded the information 'partly false'.
Defending the meme in an article published by Plant Based News, Earthling Ed wrote: "In times of crisis, it's important that we discuss how to prevent something similar from happening again in the future and so this might well be an uncomfortable truth, but it’s an uncomfortable truth that could save millions of human and non-human lives throughout the future.
"So let’s hope that this conversation can keep going, as it is absolutely crucial, now more than ever, to have important dialogue that can create mass positive change for both humans and non-humans alike."
Gregory Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Duke University in North Carolina, describes the consumption of animals as a 'significant factor' in the genesis of new human diseases.
He says 'we would probably have less contact with animals that we’re either growing or ceasing to capture from the wild for food' if we stopped eating animals.
He stopped short of saying global veganism would rid the world of every single zoonotic disease though, 'as 'we would still have contact with animals that may harbor pathogens that are foreign to the human immune system'.
Simmons is the subject of upcoming film On The Record, a documentary about women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.
Simmons has repeatedly denied the accusations, saying: "These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual."