Why and How We Help Animals
It isn’t a coincidence that, worldwide, two of the most abused and exploited populations are children and animals. The vulnerability of children and animals in society, and the failure to adequately recognize their needs and rights in international frameworks, national and local policies, and everyday practice lead to tremendous physical and psychological pain and suffering.
The connections between child and animal protection have been prioritized in the US since the nineteenth century when Henry Bergh, the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), used New York State animal protection legislation to successfully argue on behalf of an abused and neglected ten-year-old girl named Mary Ellen.
Today, although there have been some advancements for children and fewer advancements for animals, both populations continue to be exploited throughout society, including in the food and fiber trade and in research.
Like Henry Bergh, we believe that protections for children and animals need to be advanced together since their vulnerability in society often stem from the same problems.
We work toward significant protections for animals in areas where we can bring to bear our expertise and experience in the fields of medicine, public health, and international affairs.
Animal trafficking is the transport of animals from one place to another for the purposes of commercial enterprise or another form of exploitation. While some forms of trafficking are illegal, animal trafficking is broadly supported and promoted by existing laws.
Animal trafficking is commonly used in food and fiber production. Since animals are generally considered legal property, most have little or no protection from trafficking and the abuses they endure.
Public policy often enables animal trafficking. For example, massive public subsidies assist industries engaged in animal exploitation and trafficking, and policies regarding the transportation of live animals define animals as commodities.
Animal trafficking is part of an exploitative global economic system that harms both people and animals. For example, about 10 percent of the world’s children are forced to work, and many of them are trafficked to provide cheap labor for the industries that also exploit and traffic animals, including those that produce meat, wool, and leather. Likewise, refugees and other immigrants are trafficked internationally to work in industries that exploit animals for food and fiber under conditions that are often considered modern slavery.
Coerced labor in the food and fiber industries isn’t the only issue that links the suffering of people and animals.
Approximately 75% of new and emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals. These diseases originate in live animal markets, factory farms, or other environments that hurt the health and wellbeing of animals and workers. Diseases can spread rapidly, and they can become deadly, as seen in the case of COVID-19, SARS, and other viral, bacterial, and parasitic diseases.
Factory farms, in particular, are responsible for environmental harms to vulnerable human communities, including polluting their air, water, and soil. Industry is commonly exempted from regulations that would otherwise protect these communities.
Using animals for food production also fuels global hunger, both because of the link between climate change and food insecurity and because land, water, and soil are more efficiently used to produce plant-based foods.
Leather, wool, fur, and other industries that use animals for their skin, fur, and feathers also contribute to significant physical and mental suffering among animals and workers, and to pollution and other environmental hazards.
Ending Animal Trafficking
It’s impossible to count the times we’ve heard the word unprecedented used to describe the events of 2020 and 2021. But the conditions that caused the COVID-19 pandemic have many precedents: Ebola, HIV/AIDS, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and earlier SARS outbreaks all had similar origins. These zoonotic diseases have spread through unhealthy contact between humans and animals—usually through cruel exploitation such as animal trafficking.
Experts at the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Environment Program (UNEP), and elsewhere know how to prevent these deadly outbreaks: all countries must end animal trafficking and close the wildlife markets where animals are sold and killed for food and commerce.
A bipartisan bill in Congress would heed this advice and set us on the right path.
If passed, the Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2021 would direct the US State Department to work with international partners to shut down commercial wildlife markets, stop the associated wildlife trade, and end the import, export, and sale of wildlife for human consumption. The bill could prevent another pandemic, which, in one year, cost more than 3 million human lives worldwide and uncounted animal lives in international farms, laboratories, and the wild.
Similarly the Global Wildlife Trade Biosecurity Act would help combat the spread of future deadly infectious diseases through the establishment of a global task force and diplomacy and a multisectoral strategy to curb the animal trade and improve biodiversity protections and food security for the 820 million people who are undernourished and 1.9 billion people worldwide who are moderately or severely food insecure. This bill would also lend support for sustainable, nutritious plant-based protein interventions.
We support and bolster these efforts through public education, outreach, and advocacy, and we also call upon policymakers to go further by addressing the pandemic potential that is created in factory farms, slaughterhouses, and other food production industries that exploit people and animals. Additionally, we advocate for an end to public funding streams that maintain these exploitative systems through subsidies, export assistance, and regulatory exemptions.
Advancing Research Protections
Today, almost all animals, including dogs and cats people know, love, and care for in their homes, can be used in research. Almost anything can be done to an animal in the name of science. There is no real threshold for protecting animals from severe physical and psychological harm.
Fortunately, we now have real research protections for humans, including for vulnerable populations such as children and prisoners. But these protections weren’t always in place.
In 1974, following a painful record of unjust human research practices, the US Congress established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published a document called the Belmont Report five years later.
At the time, the Belmont Report changed the conduct of human research and it led to informed consent requirements, mandatory assessments of the risks and benefits of research, and special protections for vulnerable populations such as children.
Today, some of the most problematic research practices involve animals. Millions of animals—including dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, and many other species of small and large animals—are used in research each year.
A growing number of doctors, scientists, and policymakers question the validity and reliability of applying knowledge gained from animal experiments to human ailments, as well as the risks such poor science poses to particularly vulnerable human patients and populations. Fortunately, although they have yet to be fully implemented, there are more ethical, human-relevant tools that can be used to study disease and therapeutic interventions.
As part of a commitment to a Just One Health approach, we believe it is also time to extend the ethical framework set forth in the Belmont Report to animals, and we are working toward this goal. Our efforts to reexamine the principles outlined in the Belmont Report and related documents also prompt a reevaluation of human research, including the need to further enhance protections for those who are most vulnerable to exploitation.
We advocate for
- increased transparency, requiring full public records of taxpayer-funded animal research of any kind;
- the establishment of a minimal risk threshold, much like what is used in pediatric research and for other individuals who cannot provide informed consent, to be applied to all decisions about the use of animals in research;
- requiring all federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to incentivize, through preferential funding, the use of human-centered, non-animal research methods; and
- requiring all federal agencies to create a roadmap toward the replacement of laboratory animal research with more ethical, human-centered methods in accordance with the principles established in the Belmont Report. Efforts such as the Toxicology in the 21st Century (Tox21) Consortium, a federal collaboration between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Toxicology Program (NTP) headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), can serve as an example.
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