Things have certainly changed this year for humans and other animals. Some of those changes will stick and be good for us all; others won’t.
The live-animal markets in China, widely thought to be the source of the novel coronavirus, closed temporarily but are now reopening and, like those in the rest of Asia and even Europe and the U.S., are cause for alarm because they are breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases that can have fatal consequences for our own species.
On the good-news front, if you care about animals, those subjected to the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo were granted a reprieve when it was canceled; horses got a break when racetracks closed (coincidentally just after a scandal erupted and trainers and owners were indicted on a charge of felony doping); Spain banned bullfights; and even that drunken melee known as the “Running of the Bulls” is likely not to take place this year. Lions have come out to lie on the now-deserted, usually tourist-infested Kenyan park roads; elk herds have been playing in the surf along the Oregon coast; and deer have returned to graze on lawns that were once their ancestral homes.
Some university laboratories decided that their work was no longer essential and adopted out or euthanized animals ordinarily used in experiments. Those of us who work to modernize research suggested that new shipments of animals should not replace them when the pandemic is over, as we now have human organs-on-a-chip and so many other technological advances that sticking an electrode into a dog’s brain or a syringe full of chemicals down a rat’s throat is simply crude and cruel. After all, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, researchers use human pluripotent stem cells, an in vitro technique, to test the effects of chemicals found in household items like cookware and paint. Even high school dissection, for which 10 million live frogs, cats, pigs, turtles and others are killed every year nationwide, is being replaced with a simulated frog and computer software that replicates dissection without harming any living being.
People hoarded, but not just toilet paper. Since dairy milk requires refrigeration but almond, soy, rice, oat, and nut milks do not, shoppers began stocking up on nondairy milk, and as a result, cows and their beloved calves, who are torn away shortly after birth, may not suffer as much in the dairy industry. Some percentage of these consumers will no doubt stick with their newfound, healthier dairy alternative. They may also discover that companies like Miyoko’s Creamery, Kite Hill and Daiya make extraordinarily delicious plant-based cheeses, and in the world of ice cream, so many nondairy varieties now exist that you could fill a freezer with them and not have enough room for the rest.
Although some slaughterhouses have reopened, their temporary closures shed light on the abysmal working conditions inside them. Meanwhile, meat taste-alike products, such as Beyond Burgers, flew off the shelves, and consumers returned to staples like pasta with tomato sauce, rice and beans, baked potatoes, and vegetable soups and stews. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and others not only picketed the slaughter facilities with signs reading, “Stay Closed Forever. Meat Kills,” but also offered free vegan starter kits, recipes and tips for anyone who decided to use their lockdown time to try a vegan diet. In Seattle, the food technology startup Rebellyous recently took over a building that had previously housed a meat-processing facility and plans to use it to set up a prototype of a plant-based “poultry” factory.
Last year, global enforcement agencies conducted the most wide-ranging wildlife crime sting ever. This year, with reports damning the capture and farming of crocodiles and alligators for the fashion business and the threat of disease transmission from “exotic” species to our own, the trade will likely take a lasting hit. Clothing is rapidly undergoing change. Instead of using skinned animals, major designers have switched to synthetic and natural, sustainable fabrics. Some, like Cathryn Wills of Sans Beast and Matt & Nat have sworn off all types of leather. Car manufacturers like BMW, Lexus and Tesla now offer vegan leather and fabric interiors.
New York City is one of two states that banned foie gras last year, and in the last month, legislation has also been introduced there seeking to ban “wet” markets, where chickens, rabbits, turtles, ducks and other animals are caged and butchered, with their waste and blood covering the floors on which people tread as they make their way to their homes, offices and schools. May it pass for all our sakes.
In 2019, we took a step forward to help animals and our planet in many areas. If we reflect upon the opportunities we have to temper our harmful consumer habits, 2020 will see us taking more. So much depends on our acceptance of personal responsibility: We can make kind choices in everything we eat, wear, buy and do to entertain ourselves. We can demonstrate that we care about ending needless violence, show respect and consideration for all and live as if life truly counts by rejecting speciesism and affording all animals the care and compassion they deserve.