Connect with us

Animal welfare

#COVID-19 is teaching us a harsh lesson: We need to change our relationship with animals

SHARE:

Published

on

We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you've consented to and to improve our understanding of you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Yes, COVID-19 came from animals. COVID-19 was transmitted from wildlife to humans as a consequence of the sheer number of species sold in “wet” markets. These are common across Asia, as in many other developing countries, and sell all things perishable: fruits, vegetables and most notably animals – dead or alive, domestic and wild, write Reineke Hameleers, Dr Elena Nalon and Ilaria Di Silvestre. 

This time the pandemic came from Asia – but it could just as easily have originated here.

The EU is a major destination for exotic pets, including primates, reptiles, and amphibians. They are legally and illegally traded and transported to be sold and kept in EU citizens’ homes, with no sanitary controls. Traders don't adopt any of the precautionary safety provisions required in other EU industries. Animals may have been kept in conditions similar to those of Asian or African wet markets, before being transported to European houses. This is a time-bomb ready to explode.

Another major cause of the spread of animal diseases transmissible to humans – zoonoses – is pressure on biodiversity. Changes in land and sea use and loss of habitat for agricultural purposes, especially for the intensification of animal farming, cause more frequent and closer interactions between animals (farmed and wild), humans, and ecosystems. Zoonoses regularly emerge as a result of what is now, awfully, the norm in food production in most developed parts of the world: intensive farming.

Advertisement

Farmed animals kept by the billions (trillions, if we consider fish in aquaculture) are reservoirs and pathways for diseases that can be dangerous, if not devastating, for humans. In a report from 2008 on industrial farm animal production in America, the Pew Commission warned of the “unacceptable” public health risks posed by industrialised animal agriculture. A more recent study found that “since 1940, agricultural drivers were associated with >25% of all – and >50% of zoonotic — infectious diseases that emerged in humans, proportions that will likely increase as agriculture expands and intensifies”.

Quite apart from the horrendous impact of intensive farming on the animals themselves, its potential as a hotbed for zoonoses is devastating. Influenza A viruses, which can cause human pandemics, are hosted by the most farmed species worldwide: poultry and pigs. Seventy billion chickens and 1.5 billion pigs are slaughtered every year in the world. Asian ‘bird flu’ strains H7N9 and H5N1 – which originated in poultry – have been responsible for most human illness worldwide, both in terms of severity and mortality.

Pigs can act as ‘mixing vessels’, becoming infected with both avian and human influenza viruses at the same time. If this happens, the genes of these different viruses can combine and give rise to a new virus capable of causing influenza pandemics. In 2009 an influenza A H1N1 virus with genes from pigs, poultry and humans caused the first pandemic for more than 40 years. It’s now a seasonal human flu virus that continues to circulate worldwide.

Advertisement

Viruses are not the only threat. Several zoonotic bacteria are hosted by farmed animals. The WHO estimates that, globally, 111 million yearly cases of foodborne disease are caused by various strains of E. coli, at least 95.5 million cases caused by Campylobacter, and 80 million cases of salmonellosis.

And that’s not all. Treating farmed animals against disease in intensive industrial conditions requires a massive use of antimicrobials, which contributes hugely to what the WHO has described as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today” – antimicrobial resistance.

We've only got ourselves to blame.

Wild and domestic animals have carried viruses and bacteria for millennia. What has changed is the way we humans interact with them.

Animals don’t ask to end up in wet markets. They don’t ask to be traded, transported and kept as pets. They don’t ask to be intensively farmed. And despite the unambiguous scientific evidence about the risks to public health, industry and governments have closed their eyes.

Now or never

But there’s hope on the horizon.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shown that the way we treat the animals who share our planet has consequences we can’t continue to ignore.

This year the EU has a great opportunity to show that the lesson has been learned. The European Commission is drafting two crucial components of the EU Green Deal: the Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 and the Farm to Fork Strategy. These two documents, if ambitious enough, can initiate a decisive change of direction of the EU policies on wildlife trade and agricultural practices respectively.

The new EU Biodiversity Strategy should include specific actions to fight wildlife trafficking and to effectively regulate the exotic pet trade in the EU, thereby protecting the health of EU consumers as well as global biodiversity from the risks posed by the currently poorly regulated trade in live wild animals. An EU-wide ‘Positive List’ stating which animal species are suitable and safe to be kept as pets – an instrument that is preventive in nature – should be considered. Such a list has already been successfully introduced in Belgium and Luxembourg, and is being developed in the Netherlands.

The Farm to Fork Strategy can and should play a very important role in protecting human and animal health in the face of the increasing risk of pandemics and antimicrobial resistance caused by intensive industrial animal agriculture. Such a strategy should include concrete measures to promote a shift towards healthier, plant-based diets, higher-welfare animal farming practices that can drastically reduce the over-reliance on antimicrobial treatments, and farming systems and practices that can contribute to restoring biodiversity instead of impoverishing it.

The ongoing pandemic is teaching us a painful but necessary lesson: respect for animals and their habitats is integral to human health and welfare. If ever there was a time to be bold, that moment is now.

Meat consumption.

Reineke Hameleers is the CEO of Eurogroup for Animals and holds a masters in the relationship between human and non-human animals.
Dr Elena Nalon is the senior veterinary adviser at Eurogroup for Animals. She is a veterinarian and a EBVS® European veterinary specialist in animal welfare, ethics and law.
Ilaria Di Silvestre is the wildlife programme leader at Eurogroup for Animals and a biologist specialized in wildlife eco-ethology and conservation.

Eurogroup for Animals represents 70 animal advocacy organisations in 25 EU member states, the UK, Switzerland, Serbia, Norway, Australia and the USA. Since its inception in 1980, the organisation has succeeded in encouraging the EU to adopt higher legal standards for animal protection. Eurogroup for Animals reflects public opinion through its membership organisations’ affiliations across the Union, and has both the scientific and technical expertise to provide authoritative advice on issues relating to animal welfare.

 Follow Eurogroup for Animals on Twitter @Act4AnimalsEU and like us on Facebook.

Share this article:

Animal welfare

‘How can there be Jews in Europe if you keep bringing in laws against us?,’ asks Jewish leader after Greece rules to ban slaughter without stunning

Published

on

Jewish freedom of religion is under direct attack across Europe from the very institutions that have vowed to protect our communities, said European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin following Greece’s Supreme Court’s ruling that ritual slaughter without stunning violates EU law, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

The ruling is an immediate consequence of a ruling by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg last December that member countries may ban the practice of ritual slaughter in order to promote animal welfare, without infringing the rights of religious groups.

The December ruling said that the EU’s animal slaughter regulation “does not preclude member states from imposing an obligation to stun animals prior to killing which also applies in the case of slaughter prescribed by religious rites”, but encouraged member states to find a balance.

"It is now clear that a number of member states are zealously applying the former whilst ignoring the latter," said Rabbi Margolin in a reaction to the Greek decision.

Advertisement

The Brussels-based European Jewish Association represents hundreds of communities across the continent.

“We warned in December about the downstream consequences that the European Court of Justice ruling carried with it, and now we see the outcome. Jewish freedom of religion is under direct attack. It started in Belgium, moved to Poland and Cyprus and now it is Greece’s turn.

“These direct attacks are coming from many of the same governments and institutions who have sworn to protect their Jewish communities. What we are witnessing is rank hypocrisy," said the EJA leader.

Advertisement

He added: "When it comes to antisemitism, governments and institutions rightly stand behind us. But when our faith and practice is assailed left and right by laws, they are nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found."

“What use is it to protect Jews while legislating fundamental pillars of our religion out of existence?,’’ he asked.

He said his group ‘’will urgently making representations to the highest levels of the Greek government to get direct answers to this simple but fundamental question: How can there be Jews in Europe if you keep bringing in laws against us?’’

Under freedom of religion, which is protected by the European Union as a human right, EU legislation allows exemption on religious grounds for non-stunned slaughter provided that they take place in authorized slaughterhouses. Jewish kosher religious practice requires livestock to be conscious when their throats are slit.

Share this article:

Continue Reading

Animal welfare

Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the animal health sector in Belgium

Published

on

The European Commission is conducting unannounced inspections at the premises of a pharmaceutical company active in animal health in Belgium.

The Commission has concerns that the inspected company may have infringed the EU antitrust rules that prohibit the abuse of a dominant position. The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the Belgian competition authority.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are being found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

The Commission fully respects the rights of defence in its antitrust proceedings, in particular the right of companies to be heard.

Advertisement

The inspections are conducted in compliance with all coronavirus health and safety protocols to ensure the security of those involved.

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.

Advertisement

Share this article:

Continue Reading

Animal welfare

Jewish groups challenge European Court of Justice ruling on religious slaughter

Published

on

European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin

The Belgian Constitutional Court upheld a ruling of the European Court of Justice that member states of the European Union can ban religious slaughter without pre-stunning. The ban voted by the Flemish and Walloon regions has been challenged by Jewish groups who argue that under freedom of religion, which is protected by the European Union as a human right, EU legislation allows exemption on religious grounds for non-stunned slaughter provided that they take place in authorised slaughterhouses, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

“The Belgian Constitutional Court has shamefully upheld a decision that is openly hostile to a fundamental pillar of Jewish practice,’’ stated Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, in a reaction to the decision by Belgium’s Constitutional Court on Thursday to uphold a decision by the European Court of Justice banning religious slaughter without pre-stunning, thereby also upholding a similar decision by the Belgian Walloon and Flemish regions. Lamenting the court decision, he said however that provided an opportunity for European countries to show their support to Jewish communities and protect this central tenet of faith and practice. “What gets to the Jewish Communities the most is the two-faced approach of some countries towards Jewish Communities. On the one side they are solidly supportive when it comes to the fight against antisemitism, on the other they have no difficulty in effectively legislating Jewish faith and practice out of existence. ‘ Rabbi Margolin continued, “Worse still these countries are blissfully ignorant of this massive contradiction and its catastrophic effects on Jews across Europe. This decision, if replicated, is a real threat to Jewish life across Europe. Every bit as threatening as rising antisemitism, and in a sense even worse as it directly targets the very tenets of our beliefs. Now is the time for European countries to stand behind their Jewish communities and leave Belgium isolated and an outlier of how not to treat Jews”. The European Jewish Association is a Brussels-based advocacy group representing Jewish communities across Europe.

Advertisement

Share this article:

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending