WHO and UN leaders condemned by animal welfare charity for ignoring root cause of Covid pandemic a year on
The letter says high-risk practices, such as the commercial wildlife trade, the dog and cat meat trade, and fur, must be phased out if we are to prevent another crippling global pandemic
Upon the first anniversary of the World Health Organisation declaring Covid-19 a pandemic, a leading animal-welfare organisation has accused governments of “not addressing the actual issues around animal abuse” which lead to zoonotic pandemics.
In an open letter, addressed to the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), animal charity Four Paws demanded that risky practices be “urgently phased out”, with a ban on fur farms, live animal markets, and the dog, cat meat, and wildlife trade.
It also urged that there is greater acknowledgement of the need to eat less meat – a key driver of the climate crisis and habitat loss – and a crackdown on risks created by factory farming.
The letter said that “pharmaceutical responses are not the sole and long-term solution”, and said it was “deeply concerning” that despite WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking a year ago on infection-prevention, the way humans treat animals has not been factored into the pandemic response alongside the development of vaccinations.
Josef Pfabigan, President of Four Paws wrote: “The settings in which a huge proportion of animals globally are raised, traded, transported and slaughtered – cramped and overcrowded environments, poor hygiene, myriad origins, and conditions suppressing immune systems and encouraging pathogen excretion and uptake – create an ideal situation for the exchange, genetic modification and emergence of new pathogens.”
In 2007-2011, the three global organisations, the WHO, FAO and OIE, set up a plan called One Health, which was an attempt to reduce health risks, including animal-human interactions.
Four Paws wants them to add a “One Welfare” plan, stressing links between animal welfare and people’s wellbeing.
Mr Pfabigan said: “The underlying problem is the dysfunctional relationship between us, humans, with animals and nature.
“Only when concrete measures ending animal suffering are introduced worldwide can future zoonotic pandemics be stopped.
“We demand a holistic approach from those responsible, because animal welfare equals environmental health equals human wellbeing.”
In response to the letter, the non-profit organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) raised similar concerns.
Speaking to i, PETA’s Director Elisa Allen said: “PETA wrote to the WHO last year to emphasise that treating animals with disrespect and regarding them as ours for the taking will come back to bite us again, just as it has with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Animal markets and factory farms – including those that cage animals for their feathers and fur – are breeding grounds for diseases that mutate and spread to the human population. And if we continue to pillage the natural world and kill the other animals in it, we also exacerbate the climate crisis.”
Previously, scientists have said zoonotic diseases – viruses that jump from animals to humans – have become four times more frequent in the past 50 years, with zoonoses causing a billion cases of illness in people and millions of deaths every year.
According to both the WHO and a UN environment report last year, 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, and Four Paws is warning of “ticking time bombs all over the world” from practices where pathogens may emerge and spread.
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