Paws for thought: Green Deal delay must be used to reassess the human-animal relationship

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Paws for thought: Green Deal delay must be used to reassess the human-animal relationship

24 April 2020
EurogroupforAnimals
Press Release
The European Commission has announced that they will again postpone two of the key pillars of the European Green Deal - the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.

Whilst Eurogroup for Animals believes both strategies are really urgent, it believes the delay should be used to learn lessons from the COVID-19 crisis and fundamentally reassess the  human-animal relationship.

As with over 70% of all emerging infectious diseases, COVID-19 came from animals. Yet with biodiversity and habitat loss accelerating as a result of how humans use the land and sea for animal farming, animals find themselves living in ever closer quarters. As a result, our societies are at increasing risk of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19. 

Questions over how we coexist with animals – manage them, conserve them, trade them,  look after them and farm them – should therefore be at the heart of any policy debate that follows in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The new EU Biodiversity Strategy should include specific actions to fight wildlife trafficking and to effectively regulate the exotic pet trade in the EU, thereby protecting the health of EU consumers as well as global biodiversity from the risks posed by the currently poorly regulated trade in live wild animals. An EU-wide ‘Positive List’ stating which animal species are suitable and safe to be kept as pets – an instrument that is preventive in nature – should be considered. Such a list has already been successfully introduced in Belgium and Luxembourg, and is being developed in the Netherlands.

The Farm to Fork Strategy can and should play a very important role in protecting human and animal health in the face of the increasing risk of pandemics and antimicrobial resistance caused by intensive industrial animal agriculture. Such a strategy should include concrete measures to promote a shift towards healthier, plant-based diets, higher-welfare animal farming practices that can drastically reduce the over-reliance on antimicrobial treatments, and farming systems and practices that can contribute to restoring biodiversity instead of impoverishing it. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us a painful but necessary lesson: respect for animals and their habitats is integral to human health and welfare. Prevention is always better than cure. Key animal welfare measures, such as an EU-wide positive list, or promoting the shift towards plant-based diets, should now be seen as key preventative measures, transforming the human-animal relationship, so that we can reduce the threat of zoonoses and environmental degradation alike. It would make sense for the Commission to speed-up and finish its evaluation of the previous Animal Welfare Strategy before adopting these key pillars of the Green Deal. It is vital that citizens can see substantive actions on animal welfare, to demonstrate that the lessons of COVID-19 have been learned.

This pause for thought should be used to fundamentally rethink the human-animal relationship. If ever there was a time to be bold, that moment is now.

Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals