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All animals have intrinsic value, but animal rights are also important for human rights and planetary health, writes Poorva Joshipura.
In 1985, Ingrid Newkirk, founder of the worldwide organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said: “When it comes to having a central nervous system and the ability to feel pain, hunger and thirst, a rat it’s a pig it’s a dog it’s a boy. Many were incredulous and mocked her statement.
A few decades later, the idea that all animals have physical needs and the ability to experience suffering like humans do is not such a crazy idea.
After all, we share a common ancestor with other vertebrates, not only mammals, but also amphibians and reptiles. We all evolved from a fish-like animal that lived in water.
What affects animals can impact us too
Through gradual changes, the first land vertebrates emerged. Paleontologist Neil Shubin — author of the book “Your Inner Fish,” about our 375-million-year-old ancestors — notes how human hands resemble the fossilized fins of amphibians and how our various other body parts match those of ancient jellyfish and other marine animals.
Ethologists have confirmed greater similarities between humans and other animals, from whales to invertebrates such as bees. They describe animals as sentient, intelligent beings that express emotional states.
Research reveals that bees appear to dream and may experience something similar to post-traumatic stress disorder in response to a negative experience. They can also count, learn abstract concepts and play games.
We now know that chickens are smart and cunning, that pigs can be taught to play video games, and that fish make friends.
Animal behaviorists also tell us that cows suffer and octopuses experience emotional pain. And the heroic actions, sometimes caught on camera, demonstrate that dogs risk their lives to save a loved one.
With so many similarities between humans and other animals, it should be no surprise that our well-being is intertwined with theirs – or that diseases and conditions that affect them can impact us too.
Viruses, the most expensive of reminders
COVID-19, believed to have first infected humans in a live animal market, has revealed this interrelationship with shocking clarity.
Virologists generally understand that this virus, like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), spreads to humans because of the practice of confining stressed wild animals in dirty, crowded conditions before slaughtering them.
Avian and swine flu also spread and mutate amid the unnatural and unsanitary conditions inherent in intensive chicken and pig farming.
The 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic killed up to 575,400 people in the first year alone.
And lately, the highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza H5N1 has decimated populations of mammals caged on fur farms, prompting the World Health Organization to issue a warning that the virus may be adapting to more easily infect humans.
With a 60% mortality rate in humans, H5N1 avian influenza poses a serious public health risk.
“If we don’t take care of nature, it will take care of us”
Recent decades have seen a global increase in factory farming – the intensive raising of thousands of animals in crowded sheds and cages – and an increase in human encroachment into areas inhabited by wildlife, such as when forests are razed to grow crops for food or animal use. as grazing land for animals raised for meat and leather.
Now, new zoonotic diseases – those transmissible to humans from other species – come to us at a rate of three or four a year.
Animal welfare is connected to ours in other ways too. Leather manufacturing has been linked to various types of cancer, skin diseases, and respiratory illnesses in tannery workers.
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation considers crimes against animals to be a warning sign that the offender will likely be violent towards humans.
And according to researchers at the University of Oxford, a global shift towards a vegan diet “could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds and lead to healthcare savings” , while avoiding “climate-related consequences”. damages of 1.5 trillion dollars (1.36 trillion euros)”.
All animals have intrinsic value, but animal rights are also important for human rights and planetary health.
As Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: “The message we are getting is that if we don’t take care of nature, it will take care of us. “
Poorva Joshipura is senior vice president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation and author of “Survival at Stake: How Our Treatment of Animals Is Key to Human Existence.”
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