by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Animals

Apr 15 2020

Can Coronavirus be transmitted by pets and other animals?

As the author or co-author of two books about pet food (Pet Food Politics and Feed Your Pet Right), I have an ongoing interest in animals in general and dogs and cats in particular.  They too are infected by Coronavirus.  Here are some recent reports.

PANGOLINS: If, like me, you have never seen one, here’s what they look like.

They are the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world, prized as food and for their scales used in traditional Chinese medicine.  They are also suspected as being the reservoir for SARS CoV-2.

The discovery of multiple lineages of pangolin coronavirus and their similarity to SARS CoV-2 suggests that pangolins should be considered as possible hosts in the emergence of novel coronaviruses and should be removed from wet markets to prevent zoonotic transmission.

LIVESTOCK: This article offers the intriguing but unconfirmed suggestion that industrial pig production—not pangolins in wet markets—could be the origin of covid-19.    But other data suggest that pigs do not get Covid-19 (neither do chickens or ducks, but ferrets do).

TIGERS AND LIONS: A tiger at the Bronx Zoo—Nadia—developed a dry cough; her test for covid-19 came out positive.  Three other tigers and three lions also had the same cough.  How did they get this?  The zoo says:

Our cats were infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms…Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats.

DOGS: I’ve written about this previously.  The few cases of Covid-19 in dogs were apparently transmitted by their humans.  We don’t have evidence that dogs can transmit the virus to humans—yet?

CATS:  Cats, like lions and tigers, can be infected with Covid-19 and can spread it to other cats.  This is known from a study in which Chinese virologists injected the virus into the noses of domestic cats.  Can they spread it to humans?  More research, please.

The team, led by virologist Bu Zhigao at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, introduced the SARS-CoV-2 virus into the noses of five domestic cats. When two of the animals were euthanized six days later, the researchers found viral RNA and infectious virus particles in their upper respiratory tracts.

CAN PETS (OR ZOO ANIMALS) TRANSMIT THE VIRUS TO HUMANS?  There is no evidence for this so far, according to the Centers for Disease ControlWorld Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and World Health Organization.  The WHO says:

  • We are aware of instances of animals and pets of COVID-19 patients being infected with the disease;
  • There is a possibility for some animals to become infected through close contact with infected humans. Further evidence is needed to understand if animals and pets can spread the disease;
  • Based on current evidence, human to human transmission remains the main driver;
  • It is still too early to say whether cats could be the intermediate host in the transmission of the COVID-19.

WHEN IN DOUBT: Wash your hands.

OTHER ITEMS ABOUT ANIMALS

RESOURCE: The World Organization for Animal Health has a useful Q and A on Coronavirus and pet and food animals.

Dec 14 2018

Weekend reading: food animal ethics

Christopher Schlottmann and Jeff Sebo.  Food, Animals, and the Environment: An Ethical Approach.  Routledge, 2018.

Image result for Food, Animals, and the Environment: An Ethical Approach

The authors are colleagues at NYU.  They asked me for a blurb which, after reading this book, I was honored to do.  Here’s what I said:

Schlottman and Sebo have produced an utterly superb analysis of the ethics of eating animals, brilliantly distinguished by crystal-clear thinking, accessible writing, and plenty of insight into values and sources of bias.  Every eater will have much to learn from this book.

The book goes from theory to practice and takes on all of the tough ethical issues involved in food production, food consumption, and food activism (legal and illegal).

The authors’ approach is impressive:

We designed this book to provide readers with both the critical thinking tools and basic concepts and information necessary to analyze the many challenges and values concerning food, animals, and the environment.  This includes explaining how to make clear and consistent arguments, how to assess the relationship between facts and values, how to assess the relationship between theory and practice, and how to think rigorously and systematically about the empirical impacts of food systems and the ethical questions that these impacts raise.

This is exactly what this book does.

Whether or not you choose to eat animal foods (and I do), the environmental, health, and moral issues raised by animal agriculture deserve serious discussion.  They get that discussion here.

May 18 2018

Weekend reading: ban factory farms

Food and Water Watch has a new report advocating a ban on factory farms.

Why?  Because factory farms:

  • Produce enormous volumes of waste
  • Fuel climate change
  • Pollute air and water
  • Exploit workers
  • Harm animal welfare
  • Drive antibiotic resistance
  • Harm rural communities

This is ten years after the report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (on which I served).

Not much has changed but this new one is particularly well researched and is a welcome addition to the ongoing debate.

Nov 23 2015

USDA grants encourage veterinarians to work on farm animals

When I wrote my books on pet foods some years ago, Feed Your Pet Right and Pet Food Politics, I was reading a lot about veterinary practice and how it has shifted from large animals to small.  The shift is so great that hardly anyone trains to be a farm-animal veterinarian anymore.  Almost all students focus on pet dogs and cats.

Among practicing veterinarians,

  • 75 % treat pets
  • 6% work treat horses
  • 8% treat farm animals

 

The USDA wants to change that, at least a little.

It announced an award program of $4.5 million to pay off the school loans of up to 49 veterinarians who promise to work for three years in rural America where veterinarians are scarce.  The maximum award is $75,000, which is expected to cover half the average school-loan debt.  Recipients may be required to devote at least 80% of their time to work on food animals.

Sounds like a great opportunity to get terrific experience.  I hope lots of recent grads apply.

Nov 22 2013

Weekend reading: Deer Hunting in Paris (Maine, that is)

Paula Young Lee.  Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat.  How a Preacher’s Daughter Refuses to Get Married, Travels the World, and Learns to Shoot.  Solas House, 2013.

The topic of this cross-cultural memoir—game hunting—would not ordinarily interest me but once I starting flipping through its pages I found myself reading it cover to cover.  For one thing, Paula Lee sounds like someone anyone would enjoy having as a friend. She’s easy to be with as she tells the story of her Korean-American background as a Maine preacher’s daughter, and her partnership with a stuffy but warm-sounding guy in Wellesley, Massachusetts who spends every free moment hunting on his family’s property in Maine.  Paula, a trained chef,* cooks what they shoot.    She also casts an affectionate eye on the backwoods hunting culture.  I can’t say it’s a culture I’d care to adopt (I’m not much for killing animals and Maine winters are cold), but I was fascinated to learn about it from a companion who writes well and tells a good story.

*Addition: Paula informs me that she is not, in fact, a trained chef.  She “just cooks” [I’d say she writes about food like a trained chef].  She says she “started out as an academic historian, migrated into the cultural history of meat via a study of slaughterhouses…and am now mostly a food writer focusing on wild meat.”

 

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Oct 23 2013

Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production: Update

I was a member of this Pew Commission, which produced a landmark report in 2008: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

Our report’s conclusion: The current system of raising farm animals poses unacceptable risks to public health, to communities near Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and to the environment.

Our key recommendations:

  1. Ban the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production.
  2. Define nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials as any use in food animals in the absence of microbial disease or documented microbial disease exposure.
  3. Implement new systems to deal with farm waste.
  4. Phase out gestation crates, restrictive veal crates, and battery cages.
  5. Enforce the existing environmental and anti-trust laws applicable to food animal production.
  6. Expand animal agriculture research.

Recently, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) did an in-depth analysis of what has happened with these recommendations.  Its dismal conclusion: The problems have only gotten worse.

Many hoped the release of the report, which occurred within a year of a change in the administration, would help trigger a sea change in the federal government’s approach to regulating the food animal production industry…Early administrative appointments to top regulatory posts held promise for meaningful changes.

CLF’s review of the policy-landscape changes in the five years since the release of the report paints a very different picture. Contrary to expectations, the Obama administration has not engaged on the recommendations outlined in the report in a meaningful way; in fact, regulatory agencies in the administration have acted regressively in their decision-making and policy-setting procedures.

In addition, the House of Representatives has stepped up the intensity of its attacks on avenues for reform and stricter enforcement of existing regulations, paving the way for industry avoidance of scrutiny and even deregulation, masked as protection of the inappropriately termed “family farmer.”

The assaults on reform have not been limited to blocking policies…Instead, the policy debate…has shifted to the implementation of policies such as “ag-gag”, agricultural certainty, and right-to-farm laws, all of which are designed to further shield unsavory industry practices from the eye of the public and the intervention of regulators.

This week, some of the Commission members answered questions from ProPolitico reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich.  Ralph Loglisci reports in Civil Eats on that meeting and his conversation with former Pew Commission director Robert Martin, who is now the Center for a Livable Future’s Director of Food System Policy:

I think issues are going to drive change at some point. You’ve got this big group of people who want to see change. The problems of antibiotic resistance are worsening–the problems of 500 million tons of (animal) waste we produce each year are worsening and the ground in many areas of the country is really saturated with phosphorous. You can’t transport the material, so you’ve got to disperse the animals. So, the problems are reaching really a crisis point. So that could really force action too.

Is there any hope?  It sounds like things will have to get worse before they get better.  But how much worse?

I wish there were better news.  Food safety, animal welfare, and environmental advocates: get together and get busy!

Sep 26 2013

CDC’s thoroughly convincing report on the threat of antibiotic resistance

The CDC has produced a major study on antibiotic resistance and how it works. 

The report provides convincing evidence that use of antibiotics in farm animals must be restricted to therapeutic purposes—and not used to promote growth.

Apr 29 2013

Happy 5th Birthday: Pew Commission

Five years ago today, The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released its report: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

I was a member of the commission, put together by Pew  Charitable Trusts in partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and chaired by John Carlin, a former governor of Kansas.

The commission met for two years to investigate the effects of the current system of intensive animal production on public health, the environment, the communities housing confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and on the welfare of farm animals.

As a member, I had the opportunity to visit huge dairy farms, feedlots, pig farms, and facilities housing 1.2 million chickens.  This was, to say the least, quite an education.

The big issues? Overuse of antibiotics and the shocking environmental impact of vast amounts of animal waste.

The big surprise? Plenty of adequate laws exist to protect the environment and communities; they just aren’t being enforced.

A New York Times editorial noted that farm policies have turned “animal husbandry…into animal abuse,” and need rethinking and revision.

Indeed they did and do. 

As with all such reports, this one made too many recommendations but the most important ones had to do with the inappropriate use of antibiotics in farm animal production:

Restrict the use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics.

Another key recommendation:

Fully enforce current federal and state environmental exposure regulations and legislation, and increase monitoring  of the possible public health effects of IFAP [industrial farm animal production] on people who live and work in or near these operations.

And my sentimental favorite:

Create a Food Safety Administration that combines the food inspection and safety responsibilities of the federal government, USDA, FDA, EPA, and other federal agencies into one agency to improve the safety of the US food supply.

What good do reports like this do?

The report established a strong research basis for the need for policies to clean up industrial farm animal production and better protect the health and welfare of everyone and everything involved: workers, communities, the environment, and the animals themselves.

This is a good time to take another look at the report and consider how its basic—and absolutely necessary—recommendations can be put in place, and the sooner the better.