London, 21, January 2021 - Since March 2019 we’ve become accustomed to a world of social distancing. We’ve learnt more about the connections between how we treat animals and the impact on human health.
But, in a world of 2m distance between people being normal, new research from the global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, has discovered that chickens on broiler farms across the UK struggle to gain more than 21cms distance between their closest neighbours.
Such close proximity is a huge risk. With factory farms being breeding grounds for diseases and potential zoonotic variants like avian influenza or the swine flu, viruses can jump from animal to animals worryingly easily.
“The ongoing pandemic, is not the first zoonotic disease outbreak and will likely not be the last. Zoonotic diseases are the result of a human-animal relationship that have gone terribly wrong. We all have a choice now to be able to shape the future and play a role in preventing new pandemics from the chaos that we have been seen with COVID-19.”
Emily Wilson, FOUR PAWS UK Head of Programmes
Highest levels of welfare and hypocrisy?
Whilst for so long being heralded as having the best animal welfare standards in the world, there is concern from many that the growing rate of ‘mega farms’ in the UK could see our standards falling. Wilson continues “We are at risk of being viewed as hypocrites for imposing such restrictions on humans yet not ensuring that our animals are farmed with the same measures. We have seen time and time again that more dangerous zoonotic diseases are emerging and we call on the Government to act now.”
FOUR PAWS believes that it is vital for higher welfare to be considered at every stage and for a first step we must ban ‘mega farms’. In the UK we have over 700 of these US-style farms that hold thousands of animals in close proximity. This is the first necessary phase for the Government to demonstrate a commitment to ending factory farming. Supplementary to this, we must see a pledge to reduce meat and dairy consumption by 50% by 2030. Wilson adds: “These actions by the Government will not only reduce animal suffering but they will improve our own health, help combat change and prevent future pandemics. After 10 months of restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread, isn’t it time we made the same connection for farmed animals?”
Avian flu and disease spread
As avian influenza spread across the UK and Ireland late last year, measures from the Government and the Chief Veterinary Officers instructed that birds should be kept in accordance with strict biosecurity measures. These measures were an attempt to limit the spread and eradicate the disease, but as FOUR PAWS footage of UK broiler farms reveals mega farms can expose much bigger numbers of animals to a disease than in smaller farming systems.
As they are bred for rapid growth, broiler chickens are normally very inactive and there is little mental or physical stimulation for them during their short lives. In order to reduce the chances of deadly diseases spreading through our farms FOUR PAWS recommends a shift to smaller farms, more space per bird (maximum of 30 kg/m2 ), slower growing breeds and provide greater access to the outdoors. Improving animal welfare together with switching to more flexitarian and predominantly plant-based diets will give us a better chance of preventing future pandemics.
According to Wilson the future is bleak: “We’ve had viral infections with every major farm animal species. Many like bird and swine flu have proven to be deadly and highly infectious. But, the strategy at the moment seems set on increasing the likelihood of virus mutation. If and when we get a deadly and highly infectious virus that spreads through humans and one or several species of farm animals alike, it will be a catastrophe of biblical proportion.”
34,000 signatures of support
Since launching a petition calling on the Government to end factory farming and reduce meat and dairy production over 34,000 members of the British public have demanded change. At 100,000 signatures, the topic will be considered for debate in Parliament. This petition ends in February so we must take action now. Find out more here.