TORONTO, ON—-COVID-19 has affected the economy on many levels, including the agricultural sector. Several meat processing plants in Canada and the United States have had to close their doors due to workers becoming sick from COVID-19. Some have even died. This has slowed down food production and raised issues about the lack of protection for workers during the pandemic.
And while COVID-19 is hitting that industry hard, it is also shedding light on the impacts that the mass production of animals raised for food can have says the global charity World Animal Protection.
On most farms, animals are kept in unsanitary, crowded conditions, where they are unable to express natural behaviours. This makes them stressed and puts them at risk for illness. The exploitation of 50 billion animals globally on factory farms not only causes suffering to animals, these systems are increasingly being implicated in heightened public health threats and disease risk to humans.
Sixty per cent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they originate from animals. And while COVID-19 can be traced to poor wild animal welfare, diseases such as swine flu and bird flu emerged from farmed animals. If we are to avoid further pandemics, and the crisis we are all living through today, we must also look at the role intensive farming systems play.
This is a very trying time and the agricultural industry will have to make difficult choices due to partial or complete plant closures and that could further affect animal welfare.
For example, the Beef Farmers of Ontario have recommended that producers delay the shipment of animals at the end of their productive life (called ‘cull animals’) to reduce demand on the system. These animals are often already in poor health and this has the potential to elongate their suffering. It can already take several days for these animals to be sold at auction markets and transported to slaughter in normal circumstances.
If challenges with the slaughter and processing systems continue to develop, World Animal Protection wants assurances that animal welfare in the agricultural industry is a priority.
“While some in the industry are making efforts to deal with the new reality, such as the Chicken Farmers of Canada’s decision to reduce their flocks over the coming months to prevent farmers having to cull their flocks later, the bigger issue is the intensive agriculture system”, says Lynn Kavanagh, Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection Canada. “When there is a demand for cheap meat, that depends on thousands of animals being killed and processed daily, there is little room for the system to adjust to crisis situations, as we are seeing with COVID-19.”
She adds that, “In these difficult times, it may also be a chance for people to reflect on our food system and consider rethinking how we can make things better for farm animals. Canada’s food guide already recommends eating less meat and dairy in favour of more plant-based proteins for health and environmental reasons. We can all play our part by eating less meat, choosing plant-based alternatives and demanding a better life for farm animals being raised for consumption.”
It’s clear now more than ever, the relationship between humans and animals needs to change.
World Animal Protection urges the industry and consumers to work together to transform the food system and end cruel factory farming by reducing meat intake, which will lower the demand for cheap, fast meat. Only then will animal welfare improve.
About World Animal Protection
From our offices around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Kenya and Canada, we move the world to protect animals. Last year, we gave more than 3 billion animals better lives through our campaigns that focus on animals in the wild, animals in disasters, animals in communities and animals in farming. More information can be found at www.worldanimalprotection.ca