A growing scientific literature is converging on the conclusion that agriculture on the intensive model is an important linchpin in the evolution and spread of multiple novel human pathogens. Two books by evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace published in 2016 propose that neoliberal capitalism and its impacts on agriculture and land development, direct and indirect, have selected for the emergence of deadly strains of avian influenza and Ebola. In subsequent commentary, Wallace has framed the Zika outbreak in this context. Other work suggests other diseases, including yellow fever, MERS, and Q fever, have also emerged out of shifts in global agriculture, more broadly in circuits of capital, and in their local manifestations. Wallace aims to help regional communities that are relatively free of agribusiness interference to plan "probiotic" agro-ecologies that are resilient, if not resistant, to the most dangerous of outbreaks.
Robert G. Wallace is an evolutionary biologist presently visiting the University of Minnesota's Institute for Global Studies. He received a PhD in biology at the CUNY Graduate Center and did post-doctorate work at the University of California, Irvine, with Walter Fitch, a founder of molecular phylogeny. His research has addressed the evolution and spread of influenza as it relates to the economics of agriculture, Ebola in West Africa and the Philippines, the social geography of HIV/AIDS in New York City, the emergence of Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus out of Ugandan prehistory, and the evolution of infection life history in response to antivirals.
Wallace is author of Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Infectious Disease, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science (Monthly Review Press, 2016) and co-author of Neoliberal Ebola: Modeling Disease Emergence from Finance to Forest and Farm (Springer, 2016), and Farming Human Pathogens: Ecological Resilience and Evolutionary Process (Springer, 2009). He has consulted for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.