A global treaty for animal welfare

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Safeguarding us from future zoonotic diseases

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Protecting our balance with the natural world

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The international community’s failure to address animal welfare continues to have grave consequences not just for animal well-being but also for human health.

As the UN’s One Health approach recognizes, the risk of zoonotic viruses—or diseases that spill over from animals to humans—is directly related to the wildlife trade, the destruction of natural habitats, and other forms of mistreatment and inappropriate contact. COVID-19 is one such disease. HIV-AIDS, SARS, Nipah virus, Ebola virus disease and Marburg hemorrhagic fever—which all also arose from inappropriate treatment of or interaction with animals—are others. Global cooperation to protect animal well-being through a treaty is a necessary step to having a direct and positive public health and environmental impact, in addition to improving the lives of animals.

COVID-19 has caused more than four million recorded deaths. As we navigate through the wreckage the pandemic continues to leave in its wake, scientists are already warning that COVID-19 will not be the last zoonotic disease to emerge and world leaders are asking: How do we prevent the next pandemic?

WHO Investigators believe that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) originated in bats as a reservoir animal, passing through an intermediate host animal, to Patient Zero in southern China. COVID-19 is just one example of the 75% of emerging infectious diseases that originate from animal–human transmission—others include HIV-AIDS (which is passed from chimpanzees), Ebola virus disease (which is passed through bats or monkeys), and H1N1/Avian Flu (which is passed from birds).

of emerging infectious diseases originate from animal–human transmission
deaths caused by COVID-19
world leaders called for a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response

In certain conditions, highly dangerous viruses and other pathogens may spill over between species, either through direct contact between animals acting as virus reservoirs and humans, or via intermediate host animals (like livestock) who were subject to the initial spillover. Once the disease spills over from the animal to a human (usually through contact with blood or body tissue), human-to-human transmission becomes possible and far easier (e.g. through air droplets, contaminated surfaces). Further, humans have no existing immune response to novel viruses or other pathogens.

Human destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitat continues to bring humans, wild animals, and domesticated animals in closer contact than ever before. Rising global temperatures contribute to changes in animal habitats and migration patterns, which facilitate the emergence and spread of pathogens. Intensive confinement of animals in agriculture, often paired with widespread use of antibiotics, creates conditions in which new pathogens can emerge and spread. Similarly, the transportation and confinement of animals used in laboratories (often high-risk animals such as apes from distant countries) has contributed to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases including Marburg hemorrhagic fever and Ebola virus disease. International travel, trade, and food supply chains have made borders obsolete when it comes to disease transmission. Wildlife markets and the international wildlife trade put humans in intimate contact with wild animals, who may have open wounds or be carrying disease.

a particular emphasis on improving integration, by strengthening a ‘One Health’ approach across all aspects of pandemic prevention and preparedness, recognizing the critical links between human and animal health and the environment

G7 Summit Carbis Bay Communiqué

Fortunately, the risk of endemic zoonotic diseases can be materially reduced by appropriate international action addressing these underlying causes. Preventing the next pandemic is a global problem that requires a global solution. In the 2021 G7 Summit Carbis Bay Communiqué, the G7 world leaders committed to placing “particular emphasis on improving integration, by strengthening a ‘One Health’ approach across all aspects of pandemic prevention and preparedness, recognizing the critical links between human and animal health and the environment.” European Council President Charles Michel, WHO Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and more than 20 world leaders called for “a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response” that would “include recognition of a ‘One Health’ approach that connects the health of humans, animals, and our planet.”

Rising to meet this call, the Lawyers for the Convention on Animal Protection drafted the Convention on Animal Protection for Public Health, Animal Welfare, and the Environment (CAP), a treaty proposal that addresses this global problem by establishing certain minimum standards of state conduct and prohibition or regulation of high-risk activities. The CAP seeks to minimize risk of new pandemics by controlling the risk of transmission of zoonotic viruses and other pathogens through limiting inappropriate human contact with animals.

On February 22 2021, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted Resolution 101C

In addition to regulating human interaction with animals as it pertains to the transmission of zoonotic viruses and other pathogens, the CAP seeks to protect animals in their own right. The CAP therefore proposes minimum standards of care for interactions with animals, including wildlife, companion animals, commercial animals, animals in scientific research and testing, and animals in entertainment.  

If adopted, the treaty would be the first of its kind to implement the One Health approach to global health, addressing the interconnectedness of and the urgent need to invest in the well-being of animals, humans, and the environment.

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