Outbreaks can occur through the passing of diseases between animals and humans. According to a biologist, pandemics almost always begin with a zoonotic disease that involves the transmission of an animal microbe to a human. What does this mean for our relationship with animals?
As humans encroach into wildlife territory through exploration, illegal trade, or simply adventure hunting, it’s inevitable for diseases to pass around. This also exists in farmed animals that the global population relies on for food. Without proper hygiene and the agricultural industry standards, farm animals are at significant risk of catching diseases that can also pass on through the food we eat.
While we understand the health benefits of eating farm produce, there is a movement to switch to plant-based meat for a more sustainable diet. Adding another reason to that list is the prevention of pandemics.
According to the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response report, factory farms and wet markets are breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases. If we minimize our exposure to animals and control our meat intake, we are reducing the risk of infections from pathogens and artificial growth hormones usually injected into farm animals.
Until farms become ethical in their responsibility toward animals, humans also pay the price for its adverse impacts on our health.
Caring for animals can look like many different things. It can be seen when rescuing abandoned cats, training service dogs, or leaving a birdbath filled with water daily. True animal lovers research how to keep animals safe because they are also living beings who can think and feel just like humans. However, when it comes to keeping humans safe, there is a tradeoff between what is good for the animals and good for public health.
The good news is there are many ways for animals and humans to co-exist, and that is by respecting boundaries. Habitats should be preserved for wild animals. Protected environments should be organized and have laws to make sure they thrive. By leaving animals in peace, humans can adapt better lifestyles suited to keeping our distance and interactions at a minimum. Even though some wild animals have become used to co-living with humans in particular environments, urban life is different and often detrimental to an animal’s well-being. Increasing our awareness of issues related to animal cruelty can make us better advocates not just for them but also for our communities.
Just as we are wary of catching diseases from animals, wouldn’t they be afraid to catch whatever diseases humans carry, too? Whether it’s through food or petting zoo interactions, humans must consider leaving the planet for future generations since we are the dominant species. As we have experienced in a 21st-century pandemic, the world’s health systems aren’t prepared for disease outbreaks and we end up worse for it. By acknowledging our responsibility to care for the environment, we are also taking on caring for all those who live in it, no matter their kind.