As we all grapple with the global impacts of the newest coronavirus (covid-19), it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that like other serious pandemics and epidemics, this disease has its roots in the slaughtering of animals and destruction of their habitat.
Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease - an infectious disease transmitted from non-human animals to humans. Given the NSW Department of Primary Industries estimates that 75% of all new human diseases are zoonoses, it beggars the question, why isn’t more being done to stop the extreme animal cruelty and environmental destruction that causes these diseases?
Over the past 20 years, we have already faced five fatal outbreaks of dangerous zoonoses:
SARS (2002 - 2003): Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS is another coronavirus emerging from Chinese wet markets (markets selling live animals, fish, and produce, where animals are often slaughtered onsite) in 2002. Spreading to 26 countries and killing at least 770 people, SARS caused influenza-like symptoms including fever, shivering and respiratory distress that could result in death.
Swine Flu (2009 - 2010): Swine Flu or H1N1 was transmitted from pigs held in filthy, contaminated environments to their human captors. The disease was the second pandemic involving the H1N1 virus (the first being the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918), this time inflecting between an estimated 11-21% of the GLOBAL population and killing approximately 200,000 people.
Ebola (2014 - Today): Ebola was transmitted to humans through contact with and the consumption of infected animals thought to include fruit bats, chimpanzees, monkeys, gorillas, forest antelope and porcupines. With severe and painful symptoms including vomiting, impaired kidney and liver function and internal and external bleeding, ebola has an average fatality rate of 50% and has already caused at least 11,500 deaths.
MERS (2015 - Today): Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus was first identified in 2012, and is suggested to come from inhumane treatment of Dromedary Camels. The disease (which like covid-19 can spread from human to human) causes fever, abdominal pain and respiratory distress and has already spread to 27 countries, killing at least 850 people.
Covid-19 (2019 - Today): The most recent coronavirus is the one we are fighting to contain today. First identified in 2019 in the wet markets of Wuhan, China, the disease has now spread globally and has likely already caused over 14,000 deaths.
All these diseases have been transmitted from the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals - whose homes we destroy so we can exploit them for human benefit. It is clear that unless global measures are taken to improve the protection of animals, zoonotic diseases will continue to arise.
So what can be done?
China and Vietnam have already moved to close down all wet markets within their respective countries, however while this is a fantastic step in the right direction, more needs to be done to ensure animals are protected and our environment treated with respect.
Because this isn’t simply an issue of animal agribusiness - though following a plant based diet is definitely a good first step to addressing animal cruelty and the rise of zoonotic disease - it is also an issue of how we treat our world as a whole.
As David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic wrote in the New York Times:
“We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”
Animal diseases are not only linked to cruelty, but environmental change and human behaviour. With the disruption and destruction of ecosystems through logging, mining, rapid urbanisation and population growth, disease transmission is fast becoming the hidden cost of economic development.
By crowding thousands of animals together, whether it be in animal agribusiness, or through the destruction of their habitat, we not only put animals at risk of disease, but we put ourselves at risk too. And it is time for governments to step up and take action to protect humans and non-human animals alike.
That’s why here at the AJP NSW we believe that it’s time for our government to take real action to decrease the risk of zoonotic disease and better protect animals here in our state.
It is time for the NSW Government to support a transition away from animal agribusiness, and toward sustainable plant-based farming. Continuing to hold thousands of animals in confinement, sometimes crowded together to the point of rendering them unable to move is not only extremely cruel but creates a breeding ground for dangerous disease. By transitioning away from animal agribusiness we not only protect animals from a life imprisoned in this cruel industry, but we protect ourselves from often fatal disease risk.
The NSW Government must also place an immediate ban on the commercial killing of kangaroos and the trade in kangaroo meat. With kangaroos being slaughtered in the bush, and their bodies being transported for hours hanging from the backs of vans through the Australian outback, the commercial industry is not only cruel but incredibly unsanitary. Russia has already banned kangaroo meat due to the risk it poses to human health, and Europe is moving to do the same - with the growing risk of zoonoses, it is unconscionable that our government allows this slaughter to go ahead.
We also believe in placing a moratorium on destructive practices including the logging of native, old growth forests, land clearing for agricultural development, and coal mining. Not only are they contributing to climate change, but these activities displace and kill thousands upon thousands of native animals, pushing them to live together in progressively smaller areas and be in increased contact with humans where disease may be spread.
Finally, it is time for the Federal Government to the people of Australia and ban the cruel live export industry - a horrific practice not only condemned for its sheer brutality, but also a breeding ground for potentially dangerous zoonotic disease. Cramming thousands of traumatised animals to spend weeks standing in their own excrement and waste aboard a floating prison is one of the most extreme forms of animal cruelty that occurs here in Australia. These floating cess-pits create the perfect conditions for disease transmission and it is time to end this horror for the benefit of non-human animals and humans alike.
It should not take a pandemic to tell us that the callous way in which we treat animals and our environment needs to stop. There is no more time to learn, there is now only time to act. Our extreme cruelty and callous disregard for our environment has brought the world to its knees, and it’s time our government finally took decisive action to protect animals and our environment, and in doing so, protect us.