We now have a choice before us. Do we use our knowledge to continue to condemn animals to incalculable harm, in turn jeopardizing our own health, or do we use that knowledge to evolve the practice of public health and improve the welfare of all? Do we continue to ignore the sad plight of animals who are abused, traded, eaten and used for experiments and consequently ignore how their plight affects our own health, or do we use our scientific advances and knowledge to fight against abuse, protect animals and their habitats, clothe ourselves without animal skins and fur, entertain ourselves without debasing animals, and feed ourselves and produce medicines without hurting animals?
We can do all of these things today. In fact, we are at an amazing crossroads in human history. We can largely exist and, even more, exist better without compromising the welfare of animals. Curtailing our harmful practices against animals will significantly reduce a great many of the problems that currently threaten our health and welfare.
How often in life are we given the opportunity to tackle several major obstacles to both our individual and collective health—and deal with the ethical conundrum of our poor treatment of animals—with rather simple solutions? In comparison with so many other obstacles that public health faces, such as poverty, war and social inequities, the improvement of animal welfare is often a relatively easy goal to accomplish. A gesture as simple as choosing one plate of food over another can single-handedly help thwart epidemics, curtail global warming and lengthen our lives—and reduce the number of animals in factory farms. By redirecting our medical resources toward the use and development of human-based tests, we can create far more predictive testing methods and avoid significant harm to animals. Striving to minimize the harms we cause to animals does not require us to abandon our quest to further human health. Rather, our endeavor to improve human health will be substantially advanced by promoting better treatment of animals.
An international group of scientists recently ended a year-long moratorium on controversial research on potentially deadly strains of the H5N1 avian flu virus. The purpose of the research was to engineer strains of H5N1 in order to understand how it might gain the ability to spread easily among people.
Regardless of whether or not this research continues, you can bet one thing: Our risk for a deadly form of the “bird flu” virus and other pathogens remain high as long as we don’t improve our treatment of animals.
Do we need to make a choice to either protect animals or humans? This is certainly what those who profit from hurting animals would like everyone to believe. Advocates of animal experimentation especially employ the fallacy of a false dilemma: that we must choose to care about human suffering or about animal suffering, and that we cannot do both. This erroneous thinking leads us to believe that we must either experiment on a mouse (or a dog or monkey …) or we must experiment on a human child, implying that we are forced to make a choice—it’s the animals or us.
However, not only is this notion that we must either protect animals or humans not true, in fact, the opposite is true. The human plight is inextricably tied with that of other animals.
Dr. Anthony Robbins, Co-Editor of the Journal of Public Health Policy and former director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and of the National Vaccine Program headline my article in his latest post on Science Blog’s The Pump Handle as he argues against the US Ag Gag laws. He says:
“There is growing concern about mistreatment of animals and its consequences for public health. In a recent commentary published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, Aysha Akhtar describes how effective animal protection would have at least three important effects:
- Reduce the incidence of emerging in factions, as poor treatment of animals contributes to the spread of new infectious diseases.
- Medical research would also benefit from better animal treatment.
- Domestic violence might be reduced is animal mistreatment were seen as sentinel events that could trigger early intervention.”
Read The need to include animal protection in public health policies by Dr. Robbins.
Many critical public health issues require non-traditional approaches. Although many novel strategies are used, one approach not widely applied involves improving the treatment of animals. Emerging infectious diseases are pressing public health challenges that could benefit from improving the treatment of animals. Other human health issues, that overlap with animal treatment issues, and that warrant further exploration, are medical research and domestic violence. The diverse nature of these health issues and their connection with animal treatment suggest that there may be other similar intersections. Public health would benefit by including the treatment of animals as a topic of study and policy development.
Kathy Freston on Huffington Post writes:
I’ve often said that by showing kindness to animals and eating fewer (or better yet, none) of them, we see personal health benefits — a reduction in heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes and obesity. What’s good for animals is good for us!
Now there’s an intriguing new book that extends my thesis of holistic well-being beyond food and into a variety of other areas of human interaction with animals.
In Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare, Dr. Aysha Akhtar, a public health specialist, neurologist from the FDA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats, and HuffPost blogger, looks at the interlocking animal and human health issues involved in domestic violence, animal fighting, animal attacks, the wildlife trade, factory farming, climate change, and drug development.
Read full review on the Huffington Post.
Tyler Cowen mentions the book in his post in the New York Times, titled “End Subsidies and Treat Animals Better”
Read Tyler Cowen’s full article in the New York Times.
Scientist and author Jonathan Balcombe takes a moment to interview Dr. Akhtar about her book, Animals and Public Health.
Read the full interview on One Green Planet.
This past decade was, arguably, the decade of animals. More news stories covered animal welfare issues than ever before and some of the major events of the past decade involved animals. Animal protection has become a considerable social issue. But there is more to animal protection than the well-being of animals; human welfare is integrally tied with it and during this past decade, this connection was highlighted in unprecedented ways. The following top ten animal stories of the past ten years, listed in no particular order, reveal just how connected human and animal welfare and health are.