Some highlights from the news in recent months by Bronwyn Slater
Animals to be recognised as sentient beings in UK
As part of a post-Brexit animal welfare plan the UK says it will ban the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening and formally recognise animals as sentient beings.
The reforms will be introduced through a series of bills, including an animal sentience bill, and will cover farm animals and pets, a ban on ivory and shark fins and a potential ban on foie gras. Illegal hare coursing will also be the subject of a new crackdown, and the use of glue traps will be ‘restricted’.
However, the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs will not be subject to an outright ban, as campaigners had called for.
Juliet Gellatley – founder and director of Viva! – says the government needs to do more for farmed animals, saying the reforms will do little to stop factory farming. She also stressed it was ‘vital’ to ban the import of livestock.
Forests the size of France have regrown in the past 20 years
A 2-year study conducted via satellite imaging has shown that an area of forest the size of France has regrown around the world over the past 20 years. Nearly 59 million hectares of forests have regrown since 2000, providing the potential to soak up and store 5.9 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide – more than the annual emissions of the entire US.
The study found areas of regrowth in the Atlantic forest in Brazil, parts of central Africa, Canada, and in the boreal forests of Mongolia where 1.2m hectares of forest have regenerated in two decades due to the work of conservationists and the Mongolian government.
However, over a similar period 386m hectares of tree cover were lost worldwide, around seven times the area of regenerated forest.
UK legal challenge over factory farming
The UK government is facing a legal challenge over factory farming due to the threat of pandemics and concerns over climate change.
A group of campaigners has created a legal team, spearheaded by human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC. Non-profit Humane Being is behind the Scrap Factory Farming campaign which they say is crucial to stop the spread of zoonotic diseases that can result in a pandemic, as well as to meet environmental targets as set out in the Paris Agreement.
“We’re sitting on a pandemic timebomb”, a spokesperson for the group said. “Three out of every four new and emerging diseases in people come from animals. Factory farming is the perfect breeding ground for these diseases: huge numbers of animals in cramped and filthy conditions.”
A coalition of MPs is also calling on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to outlaw intensive farming.
A poll conducted earlier this year that shows 90% of Britons want the government to ban intensive farming.
RSPCA members have also called for a major cut in meat and dairy consumption in what has been hailed a landmark decision after years of debate over how much the charity should speak out on climate issues.
Seaspiracy in Netflix top 10 while petition gets over half a million signatures
‘Seaspiracy’, a documentary by Ali and Lucy Tabrizi about the exploitation of our oceans was released on Netflix on March 24th. Within 48 hours it was in Netflix’s top 10 in 32 countries.
The film charts the directors’ journey across the world to uncover the ‘horrors’ of industrial fishing. It looks at the environmental and ethical impacts of the fishing industry, as well as the inaction of environmental groups and governments.
A petition by the makers of the film urging the UK government to protect 30% of the oceans garnered over 500,000 signatures within two weeks of its release. At the time of writing the petition has almost 680,000 signatures. It is hoped government bodies in the UK, US, Canada, and Germany will set up ‘no-catch zones’ in at least 30% of surrounding waters.
Activist and writer George Monbiot called the film a ‘brilliant expose’, urging his Twitter followers to stop eating fish. Meanwhile, global searches for ‘vegan seafood’ have skyrocketed.
Irish citizens object to plans for 3 large meat and dairy plants
Opposition is growing among concerned Irish citizens to plans for 3 big meat and dairy plants – 2 of them in the Irish Republic and one in the north.
Environmental group ‘An Taisce’ have said they will appeal Cork County Council’s granting of planning permission for a 4,300-animal industrial piggery in Ballymacoda, East Cork, which would involve an increase from 1,000 to 4,500 pigs slaughtered each day, resulting in a doubling of pig slurry to 7 million litres a year. A group called Power (Protection of Water, Environment and Residents) has also been formed to appeal the plan, and more than 3,350 people signed an online petition against the development.
An Taisce has also opposed the construction of a cheese factory in Kilkenny. The group said the new factory will be a “clear tipping point” for the environment, as it would require 450 million litres of milk to run the plant. Dr Elaine McGoff, a representative of An Taisce, said that all environmental indicators are going in the wrong way and agriculture – predominantly dairy intensification – is the main driver of that. “When people see milk on the table, they do not realise the environmental cost,” she stated.
There has also been opposition to plans for a new £75 million pig slaughterhouse in Ballymoney, County Antrim. A petition calling for a halt to the project on ethical and environmental grounds has garnered almost 20,000 signatures.
WHO urges food markets to ban sale of live animals
More than a year after the outbreak of Covid-19 the World Health Organization has again called for a halt to the sale of live wild mammals in food markets.
The call came in fresh guidance drawn up in conjunction with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Animals, particularly wild animals, are the source of more than 70 percent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses. Wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new diseases,” the guidance said.
Animals bred for fur such as mink were also singled out as a potential virus threat.
Vegan charity PETA welcomed the crackdown, but described it as a ‘half measure’. “Every live-animal market must close, whether it sells bats in Indonesia or birds in Brooklyn”, said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s director.
COP26 and Summer Olympics urged to go plant based
The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) is being urged to offer exclusively plant-based foods. An online petition urging the event to hire vegan caterers has garnered over 1500 signatures. The event will take place in Glasgow which is one of most vegan-friendly cities in the world.
Previous UN Climate Change conferences have offered very little in the way of plant-based foods. Yet it is well known that halving consumption of meat, dairy products, and eggs in the European Union would achieve a 25 to 40% reduction in non-CO2 GHG emissions.
Meanwhile, the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is being urged to offer athletes and audience members exclusively plant-based food. Vegan charity PETA made the request following an investigation into a chicken farm belonging to a Japanese egg producer certified to sell eggs at the games, despite the ‘rampant abuse and horrifying neglect’ that has been exposed by whistleblower footage.
Moreover, a slew of team USA athletes are calling on the Olympic and Paralympic Committee (UOPC) to stop promoting dairy to athletes and to the public.
Avian Influenza continues to spread, while meat plants pose COVID-19 threat
Between the 8th of December 2020 and the 23rd of February 2021, 1,022 cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus were reported in 25 EU countries. The majority of detections were reported by France, accounting for 442 outbreaks in poultry.
Germany reported 207 detections in wild birds and 50 poultry outbreaks. Denmark reported 63 detections in wild birds and one poultry outbreak and Poland had 37 poultry outbreaks and 24 wild bird detections.
Six different genotypes have been identified to date in Europe and Russia, suggesting a high propensity of these viruses to undergo multiple mutations.
Seven human cases of the virus have been reported in Russia – all were poultry workers with mild or no symptoms. Fifteen cases of the virus in humans have been reported in China.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to be a danger to those living near meat processing plants in the US. A November 2020 research paper found “the total excess COVID-19 cases and deaths associated with proximity to livestock plants to be 236,000 to 310,000 (6 to 8% of all US cases) and 4,300 to 5,200 (3 to 4% of all US deaths), respectively, as of July 21, 2020.”