NGOs call for root causes of pandemic prevention to be put at centre of new pandemic treaty

NGOs call for root causes of pandemic prevention to be put at centre of new pandemic treaty

7 March 2023

Twelve leading NGOs have written to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its Member States emphasizing that to prevent future pandemics they need to put animal welfare at the center of the WHO Pandemic Treaty currently being negotiated between the 194 Member States.

The treaty, which is being developed in light of the devastating impacts of COVID-19, will be the first legally binding international agreement designed to protect the world from future pandemics. 

NGOs are stressing the need for the treaty to focus on preventing future pandemics by tackling the root causes and drivers of zoonotic outbreaks at the human-animal-environment interface. The implementation of a holistic, unifying One Health approach, which addresses the interdependence of the health and well-being of people, animals and ecosystems, can significantly reduce the risk of pathogens emerging, mutating in animal populations, and spilling over from animals to people, which can lead to pandemics.

By tackling high-risk activities such as habitat destruction, wildlife trade and consumption, and intensive animal agriculture, and transforming our relationship with animals and the wider environment, governments and international institutions can achieve equity for the most vulnerable communities that are most at risk, and by doing so protect us all from future pandemics.   

The letter follows the publication of the Zero Draft of the Pandemic Treaty in early February. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), which is tasked by the WHO Member States to draft and negotiate the Pandemic Treaty, is due to meet in Geneva between 27 February and 3 March 2023, to discuss the draft.

As it stands the current Zero Draft will not protect us from the next pandemic. It is a solid foundation to build from, but it lacks teeth.  This is not the time to be timid, but to be bold, because there may only be one chance to ensure the world gets this right. As we have seen with COVID-19 and now with the outbreak and spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, time is not on our side. It must be much more rigorous when it comes to setting effective preventive measures, compliance and implementation.”

Nina Jamal, Head of Pandemics at FOUR PAWS

There is a large body of irrefutable evidence and a growing consensus amongst scientific, conservation and animal welfare experts confirming the association between ecosystem degradation, exploitation of wild animals, intensive farming and emerging infectious diseases and other negative impacts on human, animal and environment health. Around 75% of emerging diseases in humans originate in animals. COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt and we must learn our lessons. Incorporating sound approaches to animal health and welfare, including that of wild animals, at the very centre of the treaty is vital to its success.“

Iris Ho, Head of Campaigns and Policy at the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance

Wild animals are disrupted, collected, farmed, transported, exported and traded in huge numbers, more often than not enduring appalling conditions. Crowding, stress and injury among such animals provide the perfect environment for pathogen introduction, spread and mutation; cross species transmission and the close proximity to people when they are traded and consumed creates the opportunity for human transmission. Addressing the risks from wildlife exploitation and reducing our impacts on wild animals and their welfare must be essential components of efforts to prevent future pandemics.”

Veterinarian Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy at Born Free Foundation

Late last year, two key publications by leading scientists provided “compelling evidence” showing that a seafood and wildlife market was at the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. The analyses indicate “that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) occurred via the live wildlife trade.” Reducing human interaction with wildlife is a key component of preventing and mitigating the risk of pandemics. Intensive livestock systems are also a dangerous breeding ground for viruses to evolve and mutate and have been associated with the transmission of zoonotic diseases in the past. 

The letter was signed by:

Born Free Foundation

Brighter Green

Ecoflix

Eurogroup for Animals

Farm Forward

FOUR PAWS

Jeremy Coller Foundation

Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime

Pan African Sanctuary Alliance

Proyecto ALA

World Animal Protection

World Federation for Animals

2022 Scientific COVID-19 Studies:  

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abp8715

https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abp8337

Regards Mark

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