With all the news coverage being devoted to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), it was only a matter of time until the self-described “complete press sluts” at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) tried to use the epidemic to their advantage. On Monday PETA released a position paper of sorts about SARS, claiming — despite all evidence to the contrary — that “a vegetarian diet could have prevented this deadly disease.”

Taking things one step further (did we expect anything less?), PETA activists are demonstrating today in front of a Toronto-area hospital that has been placed under a SARS-related quarantine. In a typically tasteless news release, PETA claims that SARS “is believed to have sprung from factory farms.”

Believed by whom? Certainly not by the reputable scientific community. Dr. Julie Gerberding, who leads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the media late last week that there is absolutely no scientific consensus about where the SARS virus came from:

Unfortunately the clues from comparing it to the animal viruses have not given us any real leads … it just isn’t similar enough to the known species to be able to draw those conclusions.

So where is PETA getting its “science”? From a single doctor named Michael Greger, who is publicly speculating that the SARS coronavirus originated in “the livestock industry.” Of course, Greger himself is an animal-rights zealot on a permanent speaking tour, and was a featured speaker at the Animal Rights 2002 convention. Predictably, he recommends a “plant-based” diet as a way to combat SARS.

And which esteemed, peer-reviewed scientific journal has published Greger’s wild guesses? None, actually — it was posted this week on the “VegSource” website, a repository of animal-rights mythology closely connected with the radical group EarthSave International.

Michael Greger’s involvement in this charade is strongly suggestive of another great health scare, involving Mad Cow Disease. A mixture of animal-rights and “sustainable-agriculture” zealots have tried for years to convince the American public of a human-health link between Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and beef consumption. No link has ever been proven, but that hasn’t stopped Michael Greger from suggesting otherwise on a web page that he moderates for the Organic Consumers Association.

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, a Johns Hopkins University professor of international health and epidemiology says that “there is a real possibility we can eradicate the [SARS] virus before it overwhelms global control efforts.” However our best medical minds bring this about, it most certainly won’t be through vegetarianism.