Stopping the abuse of sentient animals, farmed and wild

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A ferret-badger in Jiangmen market | Credit: Animals Asia

In early April whilst most of the world was coming to terms with the horror of the Covid-19 pandemic, Compassion in World Farming, along with some 200 other organisations, signed an Open Letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

We called upon the WHO to take actions including recommending that governments worldwide institute a permanent ban on live wildlife markets, drawing an unequivocal link between these markets and their proven threats to human health. 

Covid-19 is just the latest example of an infection that has made the leap from animals into humans – and when infections do this, they can be particularly deadly. Three out of four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from wild animals, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola, MERS and HIV.

Hens, doves and ducks enclosed in cages at a wet market in the streets of Shanghai, China | Credit: Monica Ninker

The risk of transmission of new and deadly diseases is heightened by the ways in which wild animals are typically farmed or captured and exacerbated by the inhumane and unhygienic conditions in wildlife markets, where close proximity provides the perfect opportunity for pathogens to spread between humans and animals.

Whilst our call for action has received widespread support, it has also received criticism on the grounds that wildlife trade bans might risk increased illegal trade, increased involvement of organised crime and be detrimental to livelihoods.

Frankly I’m astonished by such arguments. I could not agree more with Jill Robinson, founder and Chief Executive of Animals Asia, who has spent over three decades investigating the wildlife trade and wildlife markets. Responding to criticisms of the Open Letter to WHO, Jill commented, “The trade is already controlled by organised crime. Far better to spend millions or even billions on defeating and ending this crime and ending the trade now, rather than the trillions in the next pandemic caused by the very same dysfunctional and largely corrupt components of the wildlife trade”. 

During my own investigations around the world, and particularly in Asia, I’ve seen the suffering of wild animals, caged and confined in markets. I’ve been forced to watched as they’ve been treated with no more regard than would be afforded vegetables or tin cans.

Peter Roberts, MBE (7 June 1924 – 15 November 2006) was the founder of Compassion in World Farming

In the 1970s, Peter Roberts, Compassion in World Farming’s founder, feared that by adopting a violent attitude to Nature, man would find himself “threatened on all sides by disease, hunger and pests”. Today the world faces an onslaught of health issues, often linked to the abuse of animals, both wild and farmed.

The Coronavirus tragedy, like SARS before it, is demonstrating to the world how treating animals as mere commodities is like playing Russian Roulette with peoples’ health.

A key component of reducing the risk of devastating diseases tomorrow, is to reconnect with our humanity for animals today. Our cruel abuse of animals both wild and farmed, is damaging our health and will continue do to so unless we fundamentally reassess our relationship with animals; and recognise our ethical obligations to treat them with respect. 

As a first step, I’d like to see governments around the world acting to ban wildlife wet markets and instituting the other measures called for the Open Letter to WHO as a matter of urgency.  There are many examples of successful bans that have been combined with measures that address cultural practices and provide alternative livelihoods for those in need, for example, the ban on dancing bears in India.

Credit: Edi Eco

As we move away from wet markets and the use of wildlife for food, some will call for these food sources to be replaced by factory farming. But this too is a hot house of disease linked to the emergence of deadly diseases, including highly pathogenic Avian and Swine flu strains. Indeed, I fear that factory farms may be the source of the next global pandemic.

Everyday we understand more and more how the health of animals and people are closely intertwined. As Albert Schweitzer once said, “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace”.

Please use this link to learn about the ways in which you can help. Thank you.


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