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Eight months after the first reported case, COVID-19 continues to be a serious public threat locally and globally. There have been over 20 million confirmed cases and 75,000 deaths worldwide at the time of writing [1], with these figures continuing to grow. While the world collaborates to control the virus, we now have an opportunity to look into its origins in order to prevent further catastrophe.  

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Zoonotic Diseases

Six out of every ten infectious diseases in people are zoonotic [2], including the recent coronavirus.

A zoonotic disease is a type of disease that transfers directly from animal or insect to human. Researchers believe that zoonotic pathogens emerged with the origins of animal farming. The nascence of animal farming has had dangerous repercussions in the evolution of infectious diseases in humans. Large, dense herds of animals in close proximity to human populations have provided the perfect environment for the emergence and spread of disease [3].

It is in the best interest of public health to re-evaluate the sustainability of breeding livestock. Due to land scarcity, farmers are forced to store animals in inhumane conditions that are torturous for the animals and dangerous for the cultivation of zoonotic disease. If the livestock were less dense, there would not be enough room to breed the amount of livestock that the market demands; therefore, an increase in their standards of living is not economically viable [4]. It would be in the best interests of animal and human health to abolish this practice entirely.

Coronavirus COVID-19 under the microscope.
Coronavirus COVID-19 under the microscope (Shutterstock)

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Wet Markets

COVID-19 was first transmitted to humans in a wet market in Wuhan, China. Wet markets are infamous for their horrific treatment of animals, who suffer from high stress as confined to minuscule cages or tanks in close proximity to one another [5].

It is these conditions that create petri dishes for the spread of zoonotic disease. COVID-19 was not the first disease to arise from wet markets; the Avian influenza outbreak was contracted directly from poultry in 2003 [6]. Animals in Australian factory farms are also kept in similar stress and proximity, making them just as dangerous for the spread of disease.

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Hotspots

Disease isn’t just spread by factory farms and wet markets – other animal industries provide breeding grounds for zoonotic disease.

Slaughterhouses are hotspots for COVID-19, with factories around the world being forced to close. In Australia, this industry has been responsible for the most cases, after aged care and education. The cause of the outbreaks has been linked to working conditions, with workers shoulder to shoulder on the slaughter line, in poorly regulated temperatures [10-12].

The problems caused by fur farms have also been significant. The Dutch parliament has recently voted in favour of the motion proposed by Party for the Animals [7] to shut down the fur farms, following 26 coronavirus outbreaks since April [8]. The conditions that the Dutch mink have been subjected to are not only conducive to spreading the coronavirus but are extremely stressful for the animals. The farmed mink in the Netherlands and globally are known for exhibiting pathological behaviours such as tail biting, which is indicative of the abysmal welfare standards [9].

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Further Ethical Implications

The welfare of non-human animals in the Australian animal agriculture industry is lamentable. The standard practice in factory farms and slaughterhouses, even those that are RSPCA approved, are abhorrent. Livestock is transported, often long distances, to slaughterhouses without water, food, or any protection from the weather [13]. They are routinely mutilated without pain relief [14] and are subject to conditions that cause them significant psychological turmoil [15]. These are just a small few of many welfare concerns.

Additionally, another emerging global health threat is antibiotic resistance, making common diseases increasingly harder to treat. Over 700,000 people a year are dying due to antibiotic resistance, with numbers predicted to increase [16]. A major factor contributing to antibiotic resistance is the use of antibiotics in animal farming. Approximately 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animal farming [17]. Overuse of antibiotics in unnecessary circumstances is leading to the failure to treat many diseases that would otherwise not be deadly.

Animal husbandry has had a devastating effect on our environment, being a contributing factor to our growing climate crisis. It is not only the methane caused by red meat farms that causes such a devastating impact, but also catastrophic land clearing that needs to be not only stopped but reversed [18].

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The Future of Public Health

To prevent another pandemic, we need to treat animals better. From the cultivation to the spread of zoonotic diseases, the animal industry has a long history of creating and spreading diseases, which has been disastrous for public health. From the dawn of these diseases in animal husbandry to the many countless hotspots across Australia and the world, industries that are built on the exploitation of animals are threatening our wellbeing – and it has always devastated the wellbeing of animals.

In order to defend against these dire global issues, we need to start adopting policies that will shape the future that we want to see. The Animal Justice Party is the only political party in Australia with extensive policy tackling these issues with a focus on reforming our treatment of animals [19].

You can do your part by donating to help The Animal Justice Party tackle these issues by making a donation: https://animaljusticeparty.org/donate/.

Join the grassroots movement to boycott these practices today by taking the first steps towards going vegan! Click this link for recipes, tips, videos, and motivation: https://challenge22.com/.

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References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120208/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120208/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5367282/

[4] https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/108/9/3465.full.pdf

[5] https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-are-animal-welfare-and-public-health-concerns-associated-with-wet-markets/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7141584/

[7] https://www.partyfortheanimals.com/the-end-of-the-dutch-mink-farming-industry-one-of-the-largest-in-the-world

[8] https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/coronavirus-adds-a-new-urgency-to-calls-for-a-ban-on-the-sale-of-fur?fbclid=IwAR18ZWroBFvFaSyG7aPbmiDcbylE9bDHzDPhDybU3Ekj9FrRgVkQOOxe-p8

[9] https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ufaw/aw/2002/00000011/00000002/art00008

[10] https://www.ft.com/content/de2ca3f6-cd63-486a-a727-069762ca4a2a

[11] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-26/coronavirus-covid-19-meatworks-abattoirs-victoria/12490178

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7221225/

[13] http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/files/2011/02/Land-transport-of-livestock-Standards-and-Guidelines-Version-1.-1-21-September-2012.pdf

[14] http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/animal-welfare/husbandry/

[15] http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/animal-welfare/housing/

[16] https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/29-04-2019-new-report-calls-for-urgent-action-to-avert-antimicrobial-resistance-crisis#:~:text=By%202030%2C%20antimicrobial%20resistance%20could,die%20from%20multidrug%2Dresistant%20tuberculosis.

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4638249/

[18] https://animaljusticeparty.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/climate-changeA4.pdf

[19] https://animaljusticeparty.org/policies/

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