In the US, there was a recent report of the arrest of a man who tortured and killed his wife’s kitten because he was upset the kitten had scratched him. The man was described as hitting the kitten repeatedly with his fists, slamming her into a wall, then burying her alive. Throughout the beating, the man forced his wife to watch helplessly. The man was arrested for domestic violence and cruelty to an animal. He had a track record of also assaulting his wife.

This incident is not an isolated one. Animal abuse is one of the most reliable indicators of domestic violence and abuse of children. Studies have repeatedly indicated a link between the treatment of animals and of people. But this connection goes beyond domestic violence.

A substantial proportion of the most significant and urgent public health issues we face today are intricately linked with how we treat animals. Beyond domestic violence, this includes infectious disease pandemics, climate change, obesity and chronic disease epidemics, the biodiversity crisis (and its resultant human impact) and drug development failures. A quick exploration of some of these examples reveals how poor treatment of animals impacts us.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Bird Flu’s potential use as a bioterrorist agent given some recently revealed experiments, which have created a highly contagious form of the virus. But we don’t need a bioterrorist to wreak havoc. Our unprecedented worldwide demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products is proving to be hazardous-both to other animals and to us.

Animals raised for food are now ubiquitously crammed into factory farms, living in profoundly filthy and cruel conditions. Their resultant reduced immunity, due to prolonged stress and high crowding, create perfect breeding grounds for new, deadlier diseases.

Every year, billions of animals are caught from the wild or bred in captivity and then sold in the wildlife trade. They are sold live or in body parts as exotic pets, entertainment for circuses and zoos, food, skins, ornamental or medicinal objects and biomedical research subjects. This trade led to the emergence and spread of HIV/AIDs, Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and monkey pox.

Animals suffer tremendously as they are passed from one dealer to another, shipped overseas or slaughtered on site in horrendous ways. The trade creates very sick animals and ideal conditions for pathogens to multiply.

To tackle these infectious and other diseases, millions of animals are experimented on every year. But animal experiments are unreliable predictors of human outcomes and their use has led to human harm. Additionally, we may have abandoned countless medical treatments because of misleading animal experiments-treatments, which would have worked spectacularly in humans. By replacing the use of animals with more accurate human-based testing methods both humans and animals will benefit.

The examples presented here all illustrate the important connection between human and animal welfare. When we treat other animals well, there are direct and indirect benefits to human health. When we treat animals poorly, our collective health suffers. In other words, what’s good for other animals is also what’s good for us.

If we are to truly combat our current health threats, we must acknowledge their link with the treatment of animals. If we do not recognize this connection, opportunities to successfully tackle these health crises will be lost.

About the Author
Aysha Akhtar, MD, MPH is a neurologist and public health specialist, a Fellow of The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and works for the Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats of the US Food and Drug Administration. She is the author of the new book, Animals and Public Health: Why treating animals better is critical to human welfare.

The book is part of the Palgrave Macmillan book series, jointly edited by the internationally known theologian the Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and Professor Priscilla Cohn, Emeritus Professor in Philosophy at Penn State University and Associate Director of the Centre.

‘The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the US Food and Drug Administration or the US Government.’

Image credit: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

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