Pandemics & Animal Farming: Do People See A Connection?
COVID-19 has changed the course of history, and as we adapt to this new situation, animal advocates are highlighting the connections between animal health and human health. How does the public perceive this relationship in light of the global pandemic?
A survey carried out by Mercy For Animals explored the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours of 500 people each in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, India, and China. The objective was to understand whether the general public felt there was a connection between animal agriculture and the spread of COVID-19. The survey also collected demographic details such as education and political affiliation. However, it didn’t include questions on participants’ diets, which the researchers noted as a limitation as that could have influenced the responses they received.
The survey explored five key areas of interest. These included whether participants saw a link between pandemics and the use of animals for food, and whether they saw a link with the current pandemic specifically. Though most of the questions were closed (and involved the use of Likert scales to signal the level of agreement with given statements), participants were also asked whether they had reduced their own intake of animal products due to the pandemic. Perhaps most relevant to advocates, participants were asked how supportive they would be (on a scale of 1-100) of a global coalition to develop a plant-based food system. This question was framed in the context of slowing down climate change and preventing antimicrobial resistance.
Nearly half of all participants in Brazil and India indicated some level of agreement that COVID-19 is linked to the use of animals for food. In China and the U.S., this figure was much lower (about 29%), whilst Mexican participants responded with the lowest level of agreement at about 12%. The findings were similar for the question of a more general connection with pandemics, except that the overall level of agreement was higher in each country, with India being the highest. This would suggest that some people disagree that animal agriculture is related to COVID-19, but see a link with other pandemics.
Perhaps the higher levels of agreement in places such as Brazil and China are a reason to focus funding and other resources on advocacy organizations based outside of the U.S. and Europe. It should also be noted that even in a country with a relatively high proportion of vegetarians, the suffering of animals can still be widespread; India is one of the world’s largest exporters of beef.
The highest level of support for a global coalition for a plant-based food system came, again, from participants in India (at about 85%), though Brazil, China, and Mexico were close behind. The least support came from the U.S. at around 67%. However, this is still a clear majority and signals general support to advocacy organisations who are working to accomplish this change. Indian participants also made up the highest proportion of those who had reduced their intake of animal products (about 80%), whereas participants in the U.S. made up the lowest at around 37%. Safety was a key reason for the decision to reduce intake in all countries save Brazil, where health was the driving factor.
The study laid the ground for future advocacy efforts by scoping the interest in reducing intake of animal products in light of the current pandemic. A key recommendation from the survey is to develop talking points around the relationship between raising animals for food and COVID-19. This should be done with the acknowledgement that there is not a direct link with industrial animal agriculture. Instead, there are a number of indirect links such as habitat destruction, which increases the likelihood of infected animals coming into contact with humans.
The study didn’t ask about the nature of the perceived connection; agreement therefore doesn’t necessarily mean those participants want to limit the use of animals for food. There could be other reasons (perhaps related to the production process or international trade) for making a connection, for which limiting animal agriculture would not be the only answer. Future surveys of a similar nature might give participants the opportunity to elaborate on what they think ought to be done where they do believe a relationship between how we treat animals and outbreaks of infectious disease exists. In the meantime, it’s helpful to know that a large portion of the sampled population would agree with an international effort to redesign our food system along plant-based lines. The researchers therefore recommend that advocates leverage the existing public support for a reduction in animal agriculture to campaign for institutional change.
Be sure to check out Faunalytics’ COVID-19 & Animals study for further insights on how much the general public knows about the relationship between our current pandemic and animals, and their opinions on what should be done about it.