The Environment and Non-Human Animals

Ecological Destruction

Nishan Degnarain (28 June 2020) “Big Pharma’s U-Turn Threatens 450-Million-Year-Old Species On Front Line Of Coronavirus Defense,” Forbes
Vaccine testing often uses the “unique blue blood of the Horseshoe Crab.” However, the overuse of the Horseshoe Crab in medicine has put the species on the vulnerable or endangered list. A Singapore research team found a sustainable alternative using blood from Army Worms, and prior to the pandemic many pharmaceutical companies pledged to change to this alternative. However, the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine saw many of those companies revert to using the Horseshoe Crab. In attempting to cure a serious human disease, are we justified in endangering another species? What if the species then goes extinct?

Charli Shield (14 April 2020), “Coronavirus pandemic linked to destruction of wildlife and world’s ecosystems,” DW
Although SARS-CoV-2 is not human-made in a lab, Shield claims that humans contributed to the emergence of the novel coronavirus through their behaviour toward the natural environment and other species. Disrupting ecosystems creates the conditions that are ripe for the cross-over between species that allows novel viruses to emerge.

John Vidal (18 March 2020), “Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge,” Scientific American
A decade ago, scientists believed that forests teaming with biodiversity caused the emergence of novel pathogens. Now, scientists believe that it is the destruction of biodiversity that causes threats to human health. As we invade natural ecosystems, “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

T.V. Padma (1 April 2020), “Deforestation and disease: How natural habitat destruction can fuel zoonotic diseases,” Mongabay
Padma provides a perspective from India on how deforestation and globalization combine to create novel pathogens. Extractive industries bring humans into contact with novel pathogens and these are able to spread across the globe. Pandemics teach us about the nexus between human health and the environment. While wet markets have received a lot of attention in the COVID-19 pandemic, they account for the minority of emerging diseases. One-third of emerging disease come from intensive land-use, and over half come from wildlife in forests.

Sahir Doshi and Nicole Gentile (20 April 2020), “When Confronting a Pandemic, We Must Save Nature to Save Ourselves,” Center for American Progress
Doshi and Gentile provide a perspective from the United States of America and, although the problem of habitat destruction and zoonotic disease is global, they offer some solutions that can be implemented by the USA.

Food Systems

Jan Dutkiewicz, Astra Taylor and Troy Vettese (16 April 2020), “The Covid-19 pandemic shows we must transform the global food system,” The Guardian
Dutkiewicz, Taylor and Vettese contend that the global system of meat production will generate future novel viruses. Yet, changing food systems is rarely on the table when we do experience a pandemic or near-pandemic. They believe that denying the links between meat-production and novel viruses is akin to science denial by climate-change deniers and anti-vaxxers. Dutkiewicz et al. describe three interventions they believe would address the emergence of novel viruses.

Lisa Warden (19 March 2020), “A Palate for Pestilence: Ominous Links Between COVID-19 and Industrial Animal Farming,” Sentient Media
Warden traces the emergence of several novel viruses to food systems around the world. Warden suggests, “The pattern is sobering: the human quest for meat functions as a key driver of the emergence of deadly infectious diseases that kill countless human and nonhuman animals.” Intensive animal farming increases the risks of novel diseases which kill not only humans, but other animals as well.

Matthew Scully (9 April 2020), “China’s Wet Markets, America’s Factory Farming,” National Review
Scully writes that despite China’s claims to have banned the sale of live wild animals, their wet markets continue to function largely the same as they did before the novel coronavirus. Scully believes these markets should be condemned, but does not believe western countries have the moral high ground to make these condemnations. Scully draws parallels between wet markets and factory farms.

Sigal Samuel (10 June 2020), “The meat we eat is a pandemic risk, too,” Vox Samuel describes how factory farms create risks of both viral pandemics (such as COVID-19) and bacterial pandemics (such as the Bubonic Plague). Factory farms breed animals so that they are nearly genetically identical. This combined with the density of the hosts creates conditions for the evolution of highly virulent forms of viral and bacterial pathogens (see also Sober’s discussion of the evolution of virulence in the philosophy of biology section above). Further, the over-use of antibiotics on factory farms can encourage the evolution of drug-resistant pathogens. Samuel concludes with suggestions on how to build a better food system.