False quote attributed to WHO claims no vegetarian has been affected by coronavirus

A graphic is circulating on messaging applications like WhatsApp. It attributes a claim to the World Health Organization (WHO) which says that no vegetarian is “effected by coronavirus” and that the virus requires animal protein in the body to survive. The graphic also includes a statement credited to WHO’s representative in China Gauden Galea. The statement reads, “As long as people eat meat there is going to be some risk of infection.”

It further states that not a single vegetarian was infected with the coronavirus. This claim was also viral on Twitter and Facebook in March this year in Hindi. “विश्व का एक भी शाकाहारी व्यक्ति कोरोना से ग्रस्त नहीं पाया”, it reads.

The graphic has also been shared on Twitter. Moreover, Alt News has received several fact-check requests on its official Android application

Fact-check

A Google search with relevant keywords bore no results and we couldn’t find any media report which attributed the statement – no vegetarian is affected by coronavirus – to WHO.

In an email response to Alt News, a WHO personnel from the country office, said, “WHO has not issued any such statement that endorses or condemns any particular diet.” Thus, the claim is false.

In a statement given to international news agency AFP, India’s WHO representative Supriya Bezbaruah had rubbished the claim that a WHO report found that no vegetarian has contracted coronavirus.

On the contrary to what is claimed in the graphic, we also found that nutrition advice published on WHO’s website recommends consumption of red and white meat for adults during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gauden Galea’s statement

While the statement attributed to WHO’s China representative Gauden Galea in the graphic is true, it has been taken out of context. Galea statement’s appeared in a CNN report on the origin of the novel coronavirus being traced back to seafood market in Wuhan, China. The introduction of the report makes it clear that Galea’s statement was in the context of sale and consumption of exotic and wild animals in China. “CNN has obtained this video filmed inside the market showing that more than seafood was on offer for sale. Images of the market from early December taken by a concerned customer indicate that it was apparently selling other live wild animals including skinned birds, snakes, raccoon dogs. Sparking concerns that the virus might have been transmitted from animals to humans.” says the report.

Later in the video at 3:40 minutes, Galea said, “In our interface with the animal world, there will always be the danger of spillover and as long as people eat meat, there is going to be some risk of infection”. Thus, Galea does not advise against the consumption of meat but his statement is in the context of exotic meat.

Therefore, the claim that no vegetarians are affected by coronavirus was falsely attributed to WHO. It may be reiterated that the global health body has rubbished the graphic by saying that it has not issued any statement that condemns or endorses any particular diet. Since the coronavirus outbreak, propaganda against the consumption of meat is on a rise. Earlier, false messages ascribed to the Health Ministry and the ICMR promoted similar claims.

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