New research reveals poor animal welfare practices, in the trade and farming of wild animals and livestock, which provide the perfect breeding ground for viruses to mutate and spread. If animal welfare laws aren’t improved, we face the risk of disease outbreaks becoming more frequent. This is just one of the ways that governments are failing to protect animals and people, says a recent report by World Animal Protection.
The global charity assessed the animal welfare policies and legislation of 50 countries and clearly identified a worrying lack of adequate animal welfare laws. It is pushing for urgent improvements.
The second revised edition of the Animal Protection Index (API) shows that some countries, such as Morocco, Iran, Algeria, and Belarus, are still missing the basic legal framework needed to protect animals, and many countries do not formally recognize animal sentience in their existing legislation. The index ranks countries from A (being the highest score) to G (being the weakest score) according to their policy and legislation.
Shockingly, not one country has obtained an ‘A’ grade. The severe animal welfare concerns range from intensive farming, wildlife markets and associated trade, which are all proven threats of disease outbreak, such as the most recent global epidemic, coronavirus.
The API found that China, USA, Vietnam, Egypt, Azerbaijan and Belarus need to do more to protect animals and people from the threat of zoonotic diseases.
This global threat will continue for as long as there is no effective legislation and preventative measures to control the emerging threat to animal and people’s health. Some of the countries with the lowest ranking affected by zoonotic diseases are:
|The wildlife protection law currently allows for the captive breeding and commercial trade of wildlife or wildlife-derived products, through a permit system. The risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases from captive wildlife to humans is high.
|The US Animal Welfare Act does not apply to farm animals. There is no federal legislation protecting farm animals during the rearing phase. Intensive, close confinement production systems are common, causing animals to suffer and be stressed and immunosuppressed. There is a high risk of potential zoonotic disease outbreaks and transmission to humans.
|Rabies is of concern due to the prevalence of the disease and the dog meat trade. There is a National Plan for Rabies Control and Elimination 2017 – 2021, however there are no details in the national plan for what constitutes dog population management, nor any recommendations to ban the cruel culling of dogs.
|There is no animal protection legislation specifically for pets or stray animals, hindering rabies control and elimination. The government is urged to outlaw the culling of stray animal populations, and to implement spay-and-neuter campaigns as a tool to control stray animal populations.
|While Egypt has its Agriculture Law (1966), there are no secondary regulations or laws mandating appropriate housing, care, transport or slaughter of farm animals or animals in captivity. Transmission of avian influenza to humans has been a great cause for concern during previous outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.
|Current legislation allows for the killing of animals for rabies control, including the culling of dogs, which is an ineffective and cruel control method. The Government of Belarus is strongly encouraged to promote humane dog population management, which relies on promoting responsible ownership, mass dog vaccinations and reproduction control programs.
Sweden, the United Kingdom and Austria are rated with the highest scores, which is encouraging. More countries need to follow their lead and World Animal Protection is calling on all governments to immediately improve their animal welfare standards, not only for the benefit of animals, but also to reduce the risk to public health.
Sick and injured animals with weakened immunities due to stress and trauma are a ticking time bomb for deadly epidemics. Trade in wild animals (both legal and illegal) provides the perfect opportunity for pathogens like the coronavirus to mutate and spread, due to the combination of terrible conditions and a lack of proper biosecurity measures. Wild animals in markets such as that in Wuhan, China suffer severely from stress as they may have been poached from their natural environments or intensively farmed.
Similarly, animals such as pigs and chickens in intensive farming systems are kept in cramped conditions, which leads to poor hygiene and prevents them displaying natural behaviors, causing stress, and subsequently, weakened immune systems. This causes enormous suffering for both wild and farmed animals and creates a lethal hotbed of disease.
Kelly Dent, Global Director of External Engagement at World Animal Protection says: “The index sends a powerful message for governments to take notice and improve animal welfare legislation, which will in turn help to combat the threat of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, salmonella, avian influenza and most recently, coronavirus.
“Good animal welfare practices for domesticated animals can help prevent disease by keeping animals clean, healthy, and providing sufficient space for them to exhibit natural behaviors. Ending the commercial trade in wild animals, who have been taken from their natural habitats or intensively bred in captivity, will reduce the serious human health hazards associated with moving stressed, sick and injured wildlife through international trade routes.
“We are calling on all governments to immediately improve their animal welfare standards and factor this into current and critical debates on food, public health and sustainable development.”
World Animal Protection last year launched a 60 second film to highlight the many ways that we are failing to protect animals, asking the question: does the life of an animal mean nothing at all? This is a question we need to ask governments who currently lack the most basic animal welfare policies.
Featured image: young broiler chicks at a factory farm. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality.