Animals bred for production or experimentation live a hell on earth, of which we may well be getting a very, very sweetened foretaste. Whereas the year 2019 concluded with the bushfires in Australia, the world awakens in 2020 in a general confinement of the population due to the spread of a virus whose transmission was made possible by the capture of wild animals for the consumption of their flesh.
Wildlife, under attack in many ways, made the headlines as recent events in Australia moved people around the world as to the terrible plight of wild animals as their habitats were being destroyed by fire, their distress and sadness after the loss of their loved ones, but also their atrocious, unspeakable suffering during and after the fires. However the practice of “burning” the lands on which they have been living to reclaim these lands for agriculture is a widely use ploy to expand intensive livestock production.
Animals locked up in the barns of the farm-industries also perished in number, helpless, rarely counted, regarded as “goods” rather than as individuals who likewise disappeared in tragic circumstances. Multiplying climatic disasters hit both wild and domestic animals with a heavy toll, as hurricanes and floods sweep away everything in their path. In this we share a common destiny and the most vulnerable are always the worst off.
Zoonoses threaten global health more than ever in the 21st century, by the aggressiveness of their forms. This dangerousness results from the overcrowding in the farms that allow unusual levels of contamination, the over-consumption of animal products and, above all, the growing resistance to antibiotics and antivirals generated on these Frankenstein-farms – where they are administered en masse – which lead to the mutation of pathogens, as well as the forced displacement of wild animals whose habitats are disappearing. Certainly, although it is an infectious disease of animal origin, the current Covid-19 crisis does not stem this time directly from “traditional” domestic animal husbandry, but from wildlife trafficking, however for similar purposes and under comparable conditions of keeping.
Regularly, outbreaks of infectious diseases mostly inherited from intensive livestock farming remind us that something is wrong. They should prompt us to reconsider inhumane production methods, which not only cause suffering to the animals themselves, who in fact pass them on to humans who in turn suffer, but also harm many invisible animals at the “end of the chain”: laboratory animals. Locked up with no hope of getting out of their cages safe, the vaccines and potential treatments will be massively tested on them for our benefit at the cost of their physical and mental suffering, when we are responsible for creating the circumstances conducive to the possibility of the dramatic spread of this evil.
Are we fuelling future pandemics?
Despite standards being adopted to regulate these epidemics when and in so far as they may compromise human health, what is actually being done to prevent their emergence? “Production” animals remain deprived of space and basic freedom, unable to move around and behave as the individuals they are, driven mad by this excessive closeness, when they are not decaying in the midst of their fellow creatures. Do we ever separate the healthy from the sick to cure them? When such a risk arises, they are “destroyed”, when their health should be optimized by elementary animal welfare standards: healthy food, air, light, freedom, opportunities for flourishing, a decent quality of life.
This invites us to question the unbearable living conditions of these animals who do not enjoy in their confinement the social bond, comfort and technology that many of us fortunately continue to enjoy in the “struggle”. Such troubled times could (re)awaken our empathy for that other, for whom it is a perpetual struggle. Many authorities worry – already – about the psychological consequences of this temporary isolation on humans… Could we finally condemn these practices that we decry?
The saying “nature takes back its rights” is in everyone’s mouth these days, as many marvel at the speed with which nature seems to be healing her wounds, and at the resilience of other animals to adapt and return to places long confiscated from them as they are being momentarily abandoned by humans. After all, “aren’t we the problem?” some might ask. When we no longer invade the space with our omnipresence, is it not capable of managing itself in harmony?
The return of animals to places deserted by confined humans, the decrease observed in measured levels of air pollution, the serenity of the depopulated environment, let us glimpse that another way is possible, and paradoxically, comfort us in these difficult times. We shall not forget though that the ecological transition we have to undergo in the face of the climate crisis will ask much more from us than a few days “vacation” … Will we resume our deadly excesses the day after the pandemic? After the “trauma”, it may be possible to redefine together a renewed social contract based on more tenable and respectful values for a dignified life on the planet – this is a time for contemplation and reflection.
Could we then conceive of decolonizing spaces in order to coexist in a number of territories under more balanced terms of sharing? The path to be followed is unquestionably that, already well under way, of reducing animal suffering. This necessarily involves reducing and, ideally, eliminating their exploitation, in direct connection with the reduction of human suffering, because of their obvious interdependence: “one welfare, one health”. The connections with the climate emergency need no longer be demonstrated, and the interdependencies between our inconsistencies and the quality of life of all must urge us to switch models.
For the sake of our own safety and freedoms, we must reject the consumption of products of animal origin, which has not only environmental but also social and – as we are currently seeing – economic disastrous consequences.
Are we capable of debating what is really necessary, healthy, environmentally sound, respectful of the dignity of others, and sustainable for everyone? Their freedom versus our security. Human-animal liberation, together. It is about time. We have the opportunity. Now. For the welfare of us all.
Marine Lercier is a French jurist specialized in European Union Law and International Law, Transitional Justice and Animal Law. She is currently a doctoral student and predoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Law of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Artwork: Heather Fraser