Raccoon dogs at a fur farm in Poland

Open Letter: NGOs Stress the Need for the Treaty to Focus on Preventing Future Pandemics

Several NGOs urge WHO and Member States to put animal welfare at the centre of WHO Pandemic Treaty

27.2.2023

Vienna, 27 February 2023 –Twelve leading NGOs have written to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its Member States emphasizing that to prevent future pandemics they need to put animal welfare at the centre of the WHO Pandemic Treaty currently being negotiated between the 194 Member States.

The treaty, which is being developed in light of the devastating impacts of COVID-19, will be the first legally binding international agreement designed to protect the world from future pandemics.

NGOs are stressing the need for the treaty to focus on preventing future pandemics by tackling the root causes and drivers of zoonotic outbreaks at the human-animal-environment interface. The implementation of a holistic, unifying One Health approach, which addresses the interdependence of the health and well-being of people, animals and ecosystems, can significantly reduce the risk of pathogens emerging, mutating in animal populations, and spilling over from animals to people, which can lead to pandemics. By tackling high-risk activities such as habitat destruction, wildlife trade and consumption, and intensive animal agriculture, and transforming our relationship with animals and the wider environment, governments and international institutions can achieve equity for the most vulnerable communities that are most at risk, and by doing so protect us all from future pandemics.  

The letter follows the publication of the Zero Draft of the Pandemic Treaty in early February. The  Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), which is tasked by the WHO Member States to draft and negotiate the Pandemic Treaty, is due to meet in Geneva between 27 February and 3 March 2023, to discuss the draft.

Nina Jamal, FOUR PAWS´ Head of Pandemics, stated, “As it stands the current Zero Draft will not protect us from the next pandemic. It is a solid foundation to build from, but it lacks teeth.   

“This is not the time to be timid, but to be bold, because there may only be one chance to ensure the world gets this right. As we have seen with COVID-19 and now with the outbreak and spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, time is not on our side. It must be much more rigorous when it comes to setting effective preventive measures, compliance and implementation.”

“Civil society organisations are, of course, ready and willing to support the international institutions of the Quadripartite and WHO member states in advancing the Pandemic Treaty, especially in establishing and incorporating a holistic ‘One Health’ approach and key animal welfare objectives as this process continues over the next 1.5 years to ensure that we tackle the root causes and drivers of pathogen emergence. These measures would be essential, effective and cost-effective in preventing the spread of diseases at an early stage, which is the only way this treaty can be successful”

Nina Jamal, FOUR PAWS´ Head of Pandemics

Veterinarian Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy at the international wildlife protection charity Born Free, added: “Wild animals are disrupted, collected, farmed, transported, exported and traded in huge numbers, more often than not enduring appalling conditions. Crowding, stress and injury among such animals provide the perfect environment for pathogen introduction, spread and mutation; cross species transmission and the close proximity to people when they are traded and consumed creates the opportunity for human transmission. Addressing the risks from wildlife exploitation and reducing our impacts on wild animals and their welfare must be essential components of efforts to prevent future pandemics.”

Late last year, two key publications by leading scientists provided "compelling evidence" showing that a seafood and wildlife market was at the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. The analyses indicate “that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) occurred via the live wildlife trade." Reducing human interaction with wildlife is a key component of preventing and mitigating the risk of pandemics. Intensive livestock systems are also a dangerous breeding ground for viruses to evolve and mutate and have been associated with the transmission of zoonotic diseases in the past.

The letter was signed by

  • Born Free Foundation
  • Brighter Green
  • Ecoflix
  • Eurogroup for Animals
  • Farm Forward
  • FOUR PAWS
  • Jeremy Coller Foundation
  • Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime
  • Pan African Sanctuary Alliance
  • Proyecto ALA
  • World Animal Protection
  • World Federation for Animals

Read the Open Letter

Background

“Zero draft” WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response: https://apps.who.int/gb/inb/pdf_files/inb4/A_INB4_3-en.pdf

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org

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