By Kelly Overton
Wednesday, April 12, 2006; A17
As we observe the growing number of avian flu cases worldwide, bide time until the eventual large-scale outbreak of mad cow disease in the United States and hope what the world experienced in 2004 wasn't just a dress rehearsal for SARS, the time has come to reconsider humanity's treatment of nonhuman animals -- if only for the repercussions to our own health.
In past decades we have removed animals from pastures, sunshine and fresh air to stack them on top of each other in petri-dish-like buildings. As wild animals lose more and more of their habitats, they are forced to live on the perimeters of cities and towns and in a proximity to humans that increasingly appears to be detrimental not only to their health but also to ours.
Our health is being put at risk by our demand for low food prices. In the past decade consumers have chosen low prices over quality in the products and services we purchase -- but animals aren't products that can be endlessly manipulated for lower food costs. As a society it is time to ask ourselves if we are willing to trade our health and the health of our land, air and water in return for cheap milk, eggs and meat.
Because factory farms are legally recognized as farms -- not the industrial sites they are -- they are exempt from many of our most important environmental laws. The communities surrounding most factory farms have become wastelands from the constant flow of toxic emissions and waste polluting the air, ground and water. Inside the farms, safety and human health also take a back seat to profit. Animals too sick or diseased to stand are dragged or bulldozed to slaughter and into our food supply. Mad cow disease was born of such recklessness and greed -- a desire by corporations to minimize financial losses by using the remains of diseased animals to feed the animals that enter our food supply.
Animals raised on a diet high in antibiotics ensure human consumption of antibiotics, decreasing their effectiveness when we need them to fight infection. The presence of antibiotics in our food and water also encourages the emergence of drug-resistant illnesses. In fact, an increasing number of public health issues are linked to our mistreatment of nonhuman animals -- including the growing human resistance to antibiotics and the many health consequences of global warming.
Meanwhile, the change from a nation whose food was once supplied by thousands of small to medium-size farms spread across the country to a nation now dependent on just a few factory farms in specific areas is inviting disaster. This new concentration of meat and food production in specific geographic corridors allows for one incident of accidental contamination, sabotage or terrorist activity to cripple our food supply.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, the human version of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), can lie dormant for up to 40 years. Once discovered it is too late -- the disease has proved fatal in every human case to date. The repercussions to human health from factory farming and habitat destruction may not be known for decades, or they may immediately fly into our daily lives via an avian flu pandemic.
It is ironic that animal-borne diseases may very well achieve what human activism has failed to do -- guarantee nonhuman animals more humane lives by making animal welfare synonymous with human welfare. Regardless of how our society arrives at the conclusion, it is time to end one of the most inhumane and shameful chapters in our nation's history.
We humans remain only one species in what has always been a global ecosystem -- an interlinked web of life where the health of one species depends on the health of others. Whether through reckless factory farming, the pollution of waters and the poisoning of the species within them, or the continued rampant destruction of forests and nonhuman habitat, our blatant mistreatment of other species for the benefit of our own is not inviting disaster, it's guaranteeing it. It is time to end the treatment of God's living creatures as products and to begin treating all life forms with respect and reverence before the health repercussions to the human species are irreparable.
The writer is executive director of People Protecting Animals and Their Habitats.
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
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