Preventing an epidemic like the coronavirus doesn't just require a robust human healthcare system, it also demands a full rethinking of our relationship with the animal kingdom. Just a few examples of what we need: a crackdown on the illicit "wet markets"" trade of exotic animals, where the virus may have originated; veterinary medicine needs to be taken more seriously; and the entire meat industry needs an overhaul to prevent the spread of diseases even more dangerous than COVID-19, which could happen sooner than we think.
Almost all infectious diseases are "zoonotic," meaning they were transmitted to humans from animals. The vectors of these viruses aren't necessarily victims of illegal commerce: While SARS was born in a wet market, mad cow disease came from infected livestock in perfectly legal UK farms. Today, the widespread use of antibiotics in the animal agriculture industry to fatten up livestock and prevent the spread of diseases in factory farms has created a serious risk of bacteria evolving to resist antibiotics.
Three researchers and activists recently lamented this scary state of affairs in The Guardian: "Oddly, many people who would never challenge the reality of climate change refuse to acknowledge the role meat-eating plays in endangering public health. Eating meat, it seems, is a socially acceptable form of science denial."
In the meantime, what can be done for this outbreak? A good starting point would be recognizing the importance of animal health. The momentum is already starting, as more than 100 animal rights groups, politicians, scientists and celebrities recently came together to publish a call in the French daily Journal Du Dimanche for animal protection laws to be included in France's economic recovery plan.
Another smart move would be to elevate the work of veterinarians, who were already very familiar with strains of coronavirus, according to a report by Le Figaro. As one veterinarian argued in the French edition of The Conversation, "Let's highlight that major medical advances come from the veterinary world," citing major discoveries by veterinarian researchers in embryo transfer and immunology that changed the human medical world.
One of the latest breakthroughs is research released last week in veterinary medicine at the University of Mississippi that provides four potential treatments for COVID-19 Paying attention to these animal whisperers will lead to a more holistic, humane and healthier future for the entire animal kingdom — homo sapiens included.
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