With spring in full blossom, my favorite escape from Zoom meetings is getting outside for a long walk with my dog, Lilly. That time is a tremendous respite for both of us. In a year when we’ve spent so much time indoors, I think we appreciate even more the fresh air, sunlight, the sound of birds and the occasional squirrel encounter; Lilly is most appreciative for those encounters.
Next week, we’ll celebrate Earth Day, and for as long as I’ve been working with the Humane Society family of organizations, that day has been a reminder to me of how fortunate I am to be part of a cause that does so much to protect our planet and all its inhabitants, human and nonhuman. More pointedly, this year — as much of the human world that ground to a halt during the pandemic begins to revive and reopen — it’s worth thinking more deeply about our anticipated return to “normal” and what we want from it.
Is the return to “normal” going back to a world in which wild animals are treated as a commodities, causing extreme suffering while producing enormous risks to human health? Is it one where intensive confinement systems used to raise animals for food continue to grow unchecked, eroding the health of the planet as they subject billions of feeling, sentient beings to short, brutal lives and terrible deaths?
I certainly hope not. One thing COVID-19 has done is make our interdependence in relation to animals and the natural world impossible to ignore.
For years, we urged governments around the world to take steps to minimize the risks of zoonotic disease spread in wildlife markets. In the aftermath of COVID, we’re no longer alone in pressing for decisive action. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health and United Nations Environment Programme encouraged national governments worldwide to halt the trade in live-caught wild mammals for food or breeding purposes and close markets selling them, as an emergency measure. Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we saw the bipartisan reintroduction of the Preventing Future Pandemics Act again this year, which would ban the import, export and sale of certain live wildlife in the U.S. when the primary purpose is for human consumption; it would also bolster U.S. leadership and resources to end the trade globally and to eliminate wildlife trafficking.
Since the last Earth Day, we issued a report calling for an end to fur farming and the fur trade, as fur farms were being identified as a vector for COVID-19. Now, that debate is advancing at the state and federal levels in the United States and in other nations.
Another focus of the report was the role that intensive confinement of farm animals can play in the spread of zoonotic diseases, and in this area, we’ve made tremendous progress in recent months. Our meat reduction initiatives are thriving, we’ve secured several legislative prohibitions on intensive confinement practices and we’re winning the argument that factory farming is undeserving of political, corporate or consumer support.
In so many ways, our work is aligned with the goals and the spirit of Earth Day, and you can count on this: We’ll never be complacent in defending the interests of animals as a primary driver of ensuring the protection of our planet, its ecosystems and its natural resources. And we know that we can count on you, too, to help us make the most of every day we’re given in our efforts to create the kind of normal we dream of: a world that’s better, safer and more humane for everyone.