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COVID-19 and animal laws | Daniel Dylan

Thursday, May 14, 2020 @ 3:10 PM | By Daniel Dylan

Daniel Dylan %>
Daniel Dylan
It is of urgent importance and necessity — as we are all now of course doing — to stem the ravaging tide of COVID-19 transmissions and the unimaginable death toll witnessed both locally and globally that COVID-19 has caused. Part of this effort involves taking measures such as quarantining, restricting travel, self-isolating, social distancing, practising impeccable hand and face hygiene and funding emerging scientific and medical research to develop therapeutic treatments and vaccines.

With the exception of vaccines, these are mostly short-term measures (if they can be called that, as we do not know how long this pandemic will last), but among the most profound long-term measures we can take to improve our own and non-human animal lives and welfare is to stop consuming non-human animals as food.

While there are ethical reasons for not eating non-human animals and practising veganism (which will be dealt with in article two), the overwhelming health and environmental benefits a vegan diet can reap to prevent further coronavirus transmissions in the future is one of the simplest long-term measures anyone can take. Moreover, doing so would likely pave the way for better than the already weak non-human animal laws in Canada.

As is commonly known, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, which means it is a coronavirus that originated in non-human animals and eventually migrated to human animals. Bats are a common carrier of coronaviruses, for example, and pangolins, the most trafficked species in the world, also tend to act as intermediaries for coronavirus transmissions.

Although over 500 different coronavirus strains were discovered in the last 10 years, it is unclear to scientists, ecologists and epidemiologists where exactly COVID-19 emerged, but there appears to be a general consensus that sometime in November 2019, COVID-19 saw significant transmission from non-human animals to human animals in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China.

On Feb. 11, for various reasons owing to geographic, species and demographic neutrality and simplicity, the World Health Organization (WHO) labelled that particular strain of coronavirus “COVID-19.” In fact, in 2015, the WHO published a list of emerging diseases (mostly derived from non-human animals) that were deemed likely to cause epidemics; however, COVID-19 was not among them. I am not faulting the WHO for not including COVID-19 on that list; only pointing out that emerging diseases and their origins are generally known and monitored among the global human animal health community.

Nevertheless, what COVID-19 and some of the other viruses that were included on that list have in common is that they often originate in public and private food markets in which live or recently slaughtered wild non-human animals are purveyed. In fact, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization suggested that over 70 per cent of new human diseases in recent decades originated in non-human animals and has only been accelerated by human animals’ quest for more non-human animal sourced food.

The WHO, the U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Public Health Agency of Canada historically have, for numerous years, issued similar warnings about potential pandemics based on the dietetic consumption of non-human animals.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the federal body responsible for regulating the safety of non-human animals and their byproducts for human animal consumption in Canada, has also authorized certain countries to import meat into Canada. CFIA writes on its website that during the COVID-19 pandemic it is “taking action to preserve the integrity of Canada’s food safety system, while safeguarding its animal and plant resource base.” It is not clear what this means.

In totality, CFIA’s greatest efforts are typically devoted to ensuring that non-human animals are fit for human animal consumption and the agency does little else to protect the daily lives and welfare of non-human animals themselves. In all fairness, however, it is not explicitly within CFIA’s mandate to do so.

Above all else, however, it is the demand for “meat” that fuels supply — locally and globally. Simply put, if the demand were to decrease or even disappear, an absence of supply would naturally follow. Surely then the possibility of future pandemics would decrease.

Not consuming foreign non-human animals, however, exists in the larger context of domestic non-human animal food consumption. Canada is one of the largest producers and exporters of dead cow meat (“beef” is a euphemism) in the world, for example. According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the body that represents Canadian “beef” producers, Canada produces approximately 1.3 million tonnes of dead cow meat annually and in 2018 exported $2.75 billion worth or 398,580 tonnes of dead cow meat, representing 38 per cent of domestic slaughter. The remaining 901,420 tonnes were consumed by Canadians.

If foot-and-mouth disease, the Walkerton E. coli outbreaks and even the H1N1 and SARS viruses are indications, given these numbers, the possibility of pathogen and virus transmission exists in domestic contexts despite whatever regulatory precautions CFIA might take.

As more information about COVID-19, the devastating effects it is having, and other infectious diseases and the possibility of future epidemics or pandemics emerge, it will be interesting to see if Canadians will either become vegan or at least demand improved laws respecting the treatment and importation of non-human animals into Canada. Doing so would likely pave the way for better than the already weak non-human animal laws in Canada, which I will explore in part two.

This is part one of a two-part series.

Daniel Dylan is an assistant professor at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ont. He teaches animal law, contract law, evidence law, intellectual property law and Indigenous knowledge governance.

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