Updated: Mar 19
The Coronavirus plague is the outcome of both the sale of wildlife and the living conditions of the animals - we should address both if we want to prevent the next pandemic.
Also published in Social Europe
Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) poses global challenges and many scientists are trying to develop vaccines for the disease. Beyond the importance of discovering a drug, one must understand why the virus has spread and learn from this to prevent epidemics from erupting in the future. The outbreak of the virus, as Brian Resnick concluded in an article posted on VOX News website, is due to human behavior. How so? Scientists and reporters in China explain that in order to understand this, one must go back in time to 1970.
In 1970, there was a heavy famine in China which resulted in more than 36 million people starving. The communist administration that controlled the food production failed miserably with is mission and failed to save the people. As a result, in 1978, the administration relinquished exclusive control over agriculture and allowed private entrepreneurs to trade privately. This is how the private sector began to grow. While most farmers have domesticated animals such as poultry, pigs, and cows as well as cereals and legumes, a smaller, richer sector has begun to hunt and domesticated wildlife such as bats, turtles, and snakes. First, it was a very small sector that grew and traded wildlife only at their home. Although animal wildlife was illegal during those years in China, the Chinese government did not intervene because it contributed to the livelihood of those engaged in it, which was necessary during those years of the financial crisis.
When the Chinese government realized the economic potential of selling wildlife, in 1988 the government decided to change the laws of the economy and made a decision that changed the laws in an unprecedented way by determining that wildlife is a "natural resource" and therefore one can use it for its own needs. This decision made wildlife trading marginally interesting to the industry.
It soon became clear that this decision was, in fact, a precedent for the spread of new viruses. Why? Because as the industry evolved, huge markets selling a wide variety of animals in a limited space began to emerge: rhinos, wolves, mice, apples, crocodiles, ducks, snakes alongside pigs, chickens and more. When there is a concentration of large animal populations, there is an opportunity for the spread of animal disease to the animal, and the animal to man, and this is exactly what happened. In 2003, in the market in the Guangdong province of China, the SARS virus (SARS-CoV) burst, the source of which is an Asian palm-leaved animal. The virus reached 71 countries, killing about 774 people. Following the outbreak of the virus, the Chinese government boycotted the food industry in the wild. Although the value of the wildlife industry is minimal for China's overall GDP, lobbyists that lost huge profits following the decision have begun to pressure the administration in an attempt to renew trade. The pressure did its job - a few months later, the government re-declared 54 wildlife species as legal for trade. In 2016, more varieties were added, such as tigers and pangolins.
In 2019 the Coronavirus erupted. This time, the virus has reached 176 countries and has already killed about 7955 people. Scientists speculate that the source of the virus is probably a bat, which transmitted the virus to Pangolin (Endangered living), and it came to humans in the market in Wuhan.
What is common to the two markets in which the SARS and Coronaviruses erupted is the high concentration of different animal types and density conditions that allow the transmission of viruses from one another. The interaction of the three (bat-pangolin-human) must occur where the animals live densely. As PETER LI, a professor of animal trafficking in China, said in an article by Vox written by Sam Ellis: "The cages are stuffed with each other. The animals at the bottom are soaked in fluids. One after the other. " This is exactly how viruses emerge. After the Coronavirus broke out, the administration again banned the sale of wildlife. Organizations from around the world are pushing the Chinese to completely repeal the law, but as the government has banned the sale of wildlife after the outbreak of the SARS virus and re-permitted it due to pressures, it will not necessarily change this time. When Jonathan Epstein, a veterinarian, and epidemiologist, was asked why it's important for us to understand the source of the virus, his answer was, obviously, in order to avoid this case of repetition. To him, the epidemics occur because of human activity, it is not the animal's fault. However, is the problem the sale of wildlife by itself, or the living conditions of the animals? Probably both. In other countries, the animals also live under harsh conditions that cause disease outbreaks. For example, the source of the swine flu that spread in 2009 was probably the town of La Gloria east of Mexico City, where the industrialized pig pens are located. Even there, living conditions make it easy to spread disease. Not for the residents of the municipality, every year the huge reimbursement causes of disease are blamed. The same phenomenon is also relevant to the spreading of avian influenza, and to the mad cow disease that erupted in Britain. In many countries, including Seemingly enlightened states, live animal transportation, for example, is a large source of infection. We should not judge the Chinese for consuming animals that we do not, there is really no difference between tiger slaughter and cow or chicken slaughter, it is only a cultural difference. Perhaps a high concentration of animals of various kinds increases the chance of spreading diseases and transmitting them between animals, but the main problem is the conditions (poor living conditions: no space and bad food quality) and not the types.
Therefore, the solution may be better living and more livable conditions for animals or perhaps cessation of animal industrialization, if livable conditions are not possible. We do have other alternatives today, for a good life for Humans and animals. Instead of putting a “band-aid” on the problem (vaccines), the problem must be addressed more significantly. If we, humans, treat animal welfare as a necessary thing (not only for animals but also for us) and insist that public health is more important than the welfare of the rich industries, then the outbreak of the plague can be prevented. Animal welfare - human welfare. we should take more responsibility for our action, we are not alone on this earth.
It is time to think about the implications of our actions on animals, not just in terms of morality, but also regarding health. And, of course (but that’s another topic)- the environment.