The global outbreak of COVID-19 has caused the deaths of almost 100 Australians and many more people around the world. It has changed the way we live, the way we work and the way we interact with each other. The coronavirus is suspected to have come from wet markets, where animals are held in filthy and stressful conditions. But it is not the first zoonotic disease to come from animals forced to live in filthy conditions. According to the United States of America Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 75 per cent of new and emerging infectious diseases come from animals. This should come as no surprise to us—think of bird flu, mad cow disease, severe acute respiratory disease, swine flu and Middle East respiratory syndrome. Every major outbreak over the past 50 years has been a zoonotic disease caused by the confinement and consumption of animals. It hardly seems a coincidence that "coronavirus" is an anagram of "carnivorous".
Before we point the finger of blame overseas, we need to take a serious look in our own backyard. In Australia we conduct the largest land-based slaughter of wildlife in the world—the commercial kangaroo meat industry. Every day wild kangaroos are shot in the remote bushland, decapitated, and dragged onto the back of trucks and transported up to eight hours before being refrigerated. Joeys are bludgeoned to death or left to starve. This industry has been linked to serious diseases like toxoplasmosis and salmonella. The risk does not end with Australia's wildlife trade. Animal agribusiness operations all over the country have thousands of animals living in cramped confinement and squalor. Pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and other animals are often forced to live in their own waste and the built-up excrement from thousands of other animals. In these conditions, they become the perfect vectors for disease.
For years scientists have warned that the animal agribusiness industry is a breeding ground for new antibiotic-resistant "superbugs". The living environments for animals at animal agribusiness facilities are so revolting that these animals are regularly fed antibiotics just to keep them alive. This regular antibiotic use can cause superbugs. It also causes human antibiotic resistance. While viruses like COVID-19 cannot be treated with antibiotics, there are many health complications that can be treated with them, but our increased use in animal agribusiness and secondary consumption from eating animal flesh is building a resistance to this treatment and risking human health. With those kinds of putrid conditions it is no wonder we have seen clusters of the coronavirus at a meatworks in Victoria, as well as similar facilities in the United States, Canada, Spain and Ireland.
Now more than ever we need to recognise that the disrespectful treatment of animals has consequences. There is no need to continue to support outdated, cruel, environmentally disastrous and human health risking animal agribusiness practices. The future of food is plant based. As Australia isone of the fastest growing markets for plant-based proteins, we have the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of this change.
This Government's decision to drop one million 1080 baits across New South Wales is killing our native wildlife. In a letter signed by 24 scientists from across Australia, experts highlighted how this appalling plan poses an unacceptable risk to native carnivores, including quolls, dingoes and monitor lizards, all of which have already been impacted by the catastrophic bushfires. To add to their threat to survival is unconscionable. The 1080 bait is not only incredibly inhumane—causing any animal unfortunate enough to ingest it to vomit, shake, scream, spasm and writhe in excruciating pain for up to four days before dying—but also indiscriminate in the carnage it creates. Anybody who claims to be dedicated to protecting native animals must hear this: Extensive research has shown that native species are not immune to 1080 and are especially vulnerable to the poison in south-eastern Australia.
Not only are native animals at extreme risk of being poisoned by the 1080 baits dropped in their thousands across our national parks, but it was also revealed in the letter received by all members that these animals are being deliberately targeted. Dingoes—animals that have lived in Australia for more 4,000 years—are being baited and killed under the guise of being "wild dogs". Last year the University of New South Wales published research that revealed that the majority of dingoes killed in our State are genetically pure. If people are serious about taking action to protect native animals and threatened species, they will support our call for a moratorium on the activities that are really threatening native animals such as logging, deforestation and the right-to-harm native animal permits that are all still currently active despite the enormous loss of more than a billion animals in the bushfire season.
As Australians remain distraught over the unprecedented number of wild animals that have perished in the past month, it is time to look towards a kinder and more humane option. Now more than ever we need to be looking at the latest ecological research to find new, sustainable ways to manage the relationship between humans, native animals and non-native animals in the wild. Ecologists are increasingly recognising that eliminating non‑native species, particularly those that have been around for many years, can be counterproductive. Demonising non-native species ignores some of the benefits that these animals can bring to ecosystems and, conversely, some of the unintended harm that might occur if they are suddenly removed—particularly in this fragile, bushfire-ravaged environment. Making rash decisions to kill animals, fuelled by green xenophobia, is not the answer.
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