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    Open Letter

June 23, 2021

The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1A 0A6

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson 
Minister of Environment and Climate Change
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1A 0A6

The Honourable Patty Hajdu 
Minister of Health
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1A 0A6

We Must Fix Our Food System to Prevent Future Pandemics 

Dear Ministers, 

We, the undersigned, call on the Federal government to create a roadmap to shift Canada to a predominantly plant-based food system, including phasing out all factory farming, by 2030 to prevent future pandemics and other zoonotic infectious diseases.  

As we venture beyond the one-year mark since the official declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that the Federal government create a long-term strategy to mitigate the risk of future pandemics, and that requires taking a serious look at how we breed, confine, and slaughter animals.

Animal farming is a leading source of risk for the incubation and spread of zoonotic infectious diseases, including the risk of a next pandemic that could be even more deadly and disruptive than COVID-19. 

Producing animal products at scale inevitably involves crowding animals together in sheds, feedlots, and places of slaughter. It also brings workers into contact with these animals and involves crowding them together in slaughterhouses.1 In a white paper titled The connection between animal agriculture, viral zoonoses, and global pandemics, the Humane Society International argues that Intensive Livestock Operations (ILOs), in which thousands of animals are kept in close proximity, creates the perfect breeding ground for more novel viruses to emerge: 

“Keeping large groups of animals in densely stocked facilities creates “unique ecosystems,” identified as a risk factor facilitating the development of zoonotic pathogens with the potential to infect human populations.”2

Moreover, animal agriculture requires enormous amounts of land, and is thus chiefly responsible for human encroachment on wild animal habitats.2 This, together with its crowding many stressed animals together in unsanitary conditions, makes animal agriculture a nearly perfect mechanism for the incubation and spread of new and emerging infectious diseases from wild animals to farmed animals and to humans. 

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warns that:

“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.”3

The IPBES moreover warns that: 

“Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today.”4

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observes that “…3 in every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals,” and animal agriculture played a central role in the incubation and transmission of the vast majority of deadly and disruptive pandemics, including not only SARS and MERS, but bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, Nipah virus, mad cow disease, and many others.5

As tragically deadly and disruptive COVID has been, with a case fatality rate of between 1.38% and 3.4%, other pandemics with origins in animal agriculture and its encroachment on wild animal habitat have been much more lethal. MERS has had a case fatality rate as high as 36%, Nipah virus a fatality rate as high as 75%, and Ebola a fatality rate as high as 90%. 

While these diseases have fortunately been less transmissible and easier to contain, the ideal conditions that animal agriculture provides for the incubation and transmission of ever more virulent zoonotic infectious diseases pose a profound risk of generating a disease that is at least as transmissible as COVID, but as deadly as Ebola.6

The risks posed by animal agriculture in generating deadly and disruptive zoonotic infectious diseases are as present in Canada as in other countries. In just the last few months, Canada has seen the emergence of rare swine flu variants and an outbreak of COVID on a mink farm which threatened to incubate new COVID variants. 

As Animal Justice documents in a new report on disease outbreaks and biosecurity failures on Canadian farms, there have been over 45 outbreaks of Avian Influenza and 19 cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy that are transmissible to humans on Canadian farms. More generally, there have in recent years been over 434 recorded outbreaks of infectious diseases on Canadian farms, with the potential for transmission to humans in 2 disease types, including outbreaks of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED), Avian Influenza, and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).  

Over 80% of antibiotics in Canada are given to farmed animals.6 Meat bought in stores has been found to contain antibiotic resistant bacteria, and infections with such bacteria are common among workers in animal agriculture and people residing near concentrated animal feeding operations. 7

By any epidemiological standard, this is a disaster waiting to happen. In order to mitigate the risk of zoonotic infectious diseases, including deadly and disruptive future pandemics, Canada cannot continue breeding, confining, and killing animals for food on the scale that we do. We must start planning for a fundamental shift to safer and more sustainable food production.

We therefore urge the Federal government departments of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Health Canada to work together to create a roadmap to shift Canada to a predominantly plant-based food system, including phasing out all factory farms by 2030, to prevent future pandemics. 

This roadmap should include: 

  1. A moratorium on all new development and expansion of intensive livestock operations (ILOs), or factory farms

    Large scale livestock operations pose the primary risk of incubating and transmitting zoonotic infectious diseases. These risks cannot be adequately mitigated by attempting to tighten biosecurity measures, which as Animal Justice’s recent report on disease outbreaks and biosecurity notes are often laxly enforced.

    From Humane Society International (HSI):

    “Pathogens can spread in unexpected ways. Ventilation systems in place to regulate air quality, heat, and humidity have been implicated as a major gap in biosecurity and can generate significant quantities of airborne dust with the potential to spread infectious agents, as can flies and other insect vectors. Waste management may be an under-recognized driver of microbial leaks. Animal waste disposed of on land or used in aquaculture can contain a large pathogen load and poses an infection risk to wildlife. Depopulation of infected poultry flocks and moving them out of barns can stir up organic materials. Trucking infected poultry on public roadways is a suspected transmission route, generating infected dust and aerosols to susceptible poultry near infected farms.”

    Moreover, from Animal Welfare Institute (AWI):

    “Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs) present serious risks to the environment and public health and diminish the quality of life in neighboring communities, often those of lower socioeconomic standing. Various studies confirm that the tremendous amount of waste generated by livestock operations contaminates water supplies with excessive nutrients, pathogens, and pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics and growth hormones. CAFOs also emit large amounts of pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, and lung disease, and are one of the largest emitters in this country of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change.”

    In order to adequately mitigate the risks of zoonotic infectious disease and address the other public health and environmental problems posed by ILOs, therefore, Canada needs to undertake a rapid shift away from intensive livestock farming.

    As a first step in this direction, the Federal government must enact a moratorium on all new development and expansion of ILOs.

    This moratorium should immediately prohibit the construction of any new ILOs and prohibit the expansion of currently operating ILOs. In support of the moratorium, the Federal government should also establish a transition assistance program that provides owners of ILOs and those interested in starting new or expanding existing agricultural enterprises with grants to transition to growing crops for direct human consumption.

  2. A plan to phase out new subsidies to animal agriculture

     

    Right now, federal and provincial governments in Canada help fund meat, dairy, and egg production to the tune of billions of dollars each year through subsidies, grants, and loans.

    In 2019, for example, the federal government began handing out $1.75 billion over eight years to nearly 11,000 dairy farmers across Canada to compensate for market losses.8 The Canadian government also announced a $6-million investment to help promote pork exports8 and, last year, a $ 691-million gift to egg and chicken farmers.9

    In order to mitigate the risk of future pandemics, subsidies being distributed to ILOs that pose tremendous risk of causing another worldwide pandemic, must end.

  3. A plan to help educate consumers and help them access healthy plant-based food

     

    In order to transition to a plant-based food system to mitigate the risks of zoonotic infectious diseases, it’s imperative that the government support Canadians in making the transition as well.

    In early 2019, many Canadians were pleased with the updated Canada Food Guide, given it was founded on large bodies of scientific research and evidence, public consultations, and for the first time it recommended eating healthy and sustainable plant-based foods more often.

    The Dietary Guidelines that accompanied the guide also recommended that “food and beverages offered in publicly funded institutions should align to Canada’s Dietary Guidelines” and limit the availability of highly processed foods. Subsequently, the first ever Food Policy for Canada was introduced following public consultations in 2017. The policy was intended to “help Canada build a healthier and more sustainable food system….” The 2019 budget allocated $134 million in initial investments to support the food policy.

    Unfortunately, since Health Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food made these announcements nothing has really changed for Canadians. The Canada Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines that accompany the guide have not been operationalized in any meaningful way, and despite a commitment to create a National School Food Program, none of the $134 million investment was specifically allocated to this program.

    In light of the above, Nation Rising put forward for your serious consideration the following recommendations, including a minimum investment of $400 million (10% of the $3.9 billion invested in animal agriculture industries in the 2019 budget).

    a) Dedicate significant funding to operationalize the Canada Food Guide through a branded education program – similar to ParticipACTION – that would educate Canadians on healthy eating food options, and the health benefits of consuming whole plant-based foods.  This could be accomplished through government-funded public service announcements via social media, radio, television, and print, that would promote the recommendations in the evidence-based Canada Food Guide.

    b) Allocate necessary investments to create and implement a world-class National School Food Program that will rival existing programs in G7 countries, and:

    – Shift the mandate for the National School Food Program to the Minister of Health given its focus on childrens’ and youths’ health;

    – Ensure the program aligns to the Canada Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines, thereby introducing plant based food options and removing carcinogenic foods; as well as

    – Remove any conflicts of interest by excluding lobbyists and industry leaders in the planning, development, and implementation of the program.

    c) Invest in creating a policy which will bring to life the commitment to offer only foods that align to the Dietary Guidelines in publicly funded institutions. This would include colleges, universities, hospitals, prisons, government buildings, and more.

  4. A plan to help producers transition to plant-based food production

     

    Canada’s federal and provincial governments have created a system where intensive livestock farmers are dependent on subsidies. It is now incumbent on those same governments to create meaningful policies and funding to enable and incentivize animal agriculture farmers to transition to plant-based farming with no loss of dignity or income.

    Plant-based protein can be produced without the use of animals, and without the threat of zoonotic diseases.

    The demand for plant-based protein is also growing. According to the National Research Council of Canada, “the market for alternative proteins, including plant-based proteins, is expected to grow at 14% annually by 2024 — up to a third of the protein market.”9

    The government has invested some money into safer and healthier plant protein production over the last couple of years, providing nearly $100 million to Merit Functional Foods9, which produces plant-based protein from Canadian peas and canola, for example, but this is just not enough to fund a full transition to safer food production that we so urgently need.

    Canadian governments should also look to initiatives being led in the U.S. and Europe, such as Transfarmation10, by international advocacy group Mercy For Animals, The Vegan Society’s Grow Green campaign11, the Rancher Advocacy Program (RAP), and ReFarm’d12 for examples on how to help animal farmers transition to safer plant-based food production to mitigate the risk of future pandemics.

We ask you to act now, with the urgency of knowing that the lives of all Canadians are at risk, and create a roadmap to phase out all factory farming and transition Canada to a predominantly plant-based food system to prevent future pandemics.  

This letter is signed by the following organizations and individuals:

Organizations

Individuals

Dr. David Jenkins OC, MD, FRSC, FRCP, FRCPC, PhD, DSc, Professor in the Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Staff Physician in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center, and Scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor, Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry, Cornell University

M.P. Nathaniel Erskine-Smith / Beaches – East York

Jann Arden, Canadian Singer-Songwriter and Actress

Dr. Jennifer Purdy, CD, MD, CCFP, DipABLM

Dr. Julie Chan, ND, R.Ac.

Dr. Sangeeta Oza, MD, DipABLM

Dr. Zahra Kassam, MBBS, MSc, FRCPC, DipABLM

Dr. Tushar Mehta, MD, CCFP 

Dr. Shireen Kassam MD, PhD

Dr. Shivam Joshi, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, NYU Grossman School of Medicine, NY, NY USA

Dr. Laura Chiavaroli MSc, PhD, Post Doctoral Fellow, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto

Dr. Ian Silver, MD, FRCPC, Assistant Professor and Radiologist, Division of Neuroradiology, Queen’s University/Kingston Health Sciences Centre

Dr. Barbara Falco Kazemi, MD 

Dr. Reza Kazemi, MD

Dr. Marie-Eve Bérubé, MD, CCFP

Dr. Ian A. Gillespie, MD, FRCPC, DipABPN, DipABLM

Dr. Nicky Jacobsz, MD

Dr. Amin Ladak, MD, MSc, MHA-MPH, CCFP (SEME), DipABLM

Dr. Paul Mathers 

Dr. Caroline Juszczynski

Dr. Jonathan Grill, M.D., C.M.

Dr. Werner Spangehl, BSc, MD, DipABLM

Dr. Dan Lander, ND. Associate Professor, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and Director of the CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre

Dr. Katherine Kilpatrick, BA, BNSc, MD, CCFP(COE), FCFP, Medical Director, Health for Life Medical Centre

Dr Santhoshan Moodliar, MBChB, FRCSC, FCOG(SA), Specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Head of Department of Gynecology, Peace Arch HospitalSan 

Zeeshan Ali, PhD; Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Natalie Rousseau, Kinesiologist, BA and MA in Nutrition

Andrew Knight, MANZCVS, DipECAWBM (AWSEL), DipACAW, PhD, FRCVS, PFHEA, Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, & Founding Director, Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Winchester, UK; Adjunct Professor, School of Environment and Science, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia; European & RCVS Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law; American & New Zealand Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare; Fellow, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, & Member, Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (Animal Welfare chapter); Principal Fellow, Advance HE (formerly Higher Education Academy)

Professor Amir Kassam, OBE, FRSB, CBiol, PhD, MS, Bsc (Hons)

Mylan Engel Jr., Full Professor, Department of Philosophy, and Faculty Associate, Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy, Northern Illinois University.

Brenda Davis, RD, author, speaker

Dan Moskaluk, Retired RCMP – Media Relations, Plant Based Health Advocate & Coach, featured in Eating You Alive

Sheanne Moskaluk, Plant Based Health Advocate & Coach, featured in Eating You Alive

Stacy Neilson, RN, BScN

Anne-Marie Roy, Nutritionist

Emma Levez Larocque R.H.N., B.A. Hon., J.Dipl.; Registered Holistic Nutritionist

Stavros Gavrilidis (Steve Gavrilos), B.Sc.Phm., Registered Pharmacist & Owner, Eastown Pharmacy & Plant Based Wellness Forum, Plant Based Nutrition (eCornell), Windsor, Ontario

Syd M Johnson, PhD (she/her), Associate Professor, Ethics Consultant, Center for Bioethics & Humanities, Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY

Philip McMichael, Professor, Dept of Global Development, Cornell University

Nassim Nobari, Co-founder and Executive Director of Seed the Commons

Stevan Harnad, PhD; DSc (honoris causa); Professor, UQÀM, McGill; Editor, Animal Sentience

Peter Sankoff, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta

Krista Hiddema, B.A., M.A., CHRP, SHRP, Doctoral Candidate, Royal Roads University

Dr. Jodi Lazare, assistant professor, Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University

Nicolas Treich, Economist

Justin Leroux, Professor of Applied Economics, HEC Montréal, CIRANO, and Centre de recherche en éthique (CRÉ)

Randall S. Abate, Rechnitz Family and Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy; Director, Institute for Global Understanding; Professor, Department of Political Science and Sociology

Vasile Stănescu, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies, Chair; Mercer University; Critical Animal Studies Book Series, Editor

Dr. Tony Weis, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Environment, The University of Western Ontario

Dr. Kathleen Kevany (she/her), Associate Professor, Department of Business and Social Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University

Will Kymlicka, FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy, Queen’s University

Sue Donaldson, Research Associate, Dept. of Philosophy, Queen’s University

Christine Tappolet, Professeure de philosophie, Département de philosophie, Université de Montréal, Directrice du the Centre de Recherche en Éthique, Présidente de l’Association Canadienne de Philosophie

Ryoa Chung, Professeure titulaire, Département de philosophie, Université de Montréal

Maureen Okun, Professor, Liberal Studies, Vancouver Island University

Andrew Fenton, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia)

Kristin Voigt, Associate Professor, Institute for Health and Social Policy & Department of Philosophy, McGill University

Howard Nye, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta

Robert C. Jones, Associate Professor of Philosophy, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Jeff Sebo, Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Affiliated Professor of Bioethics, Medical Ethics, and Philosophy, and Director of the Animal Studies M.A. Program, New York University

Ramona Ilea, Professor of Philosophy, Pacific University

Dr. Angela Martin, SNSF PRIMA Research Group Leader, Department of Philosophy, University of Basel,  Switzerland

Cassandra Hanrahan, (she/her, they/them- why these matter), PhD, RSW Sociology & Equity Studies, Associate Professor, Undergraduate Program Coordinator, School of Social Work, Dalhousie University,  Halifax Nova Scotia

Émilie Dardenne, Associate Professor in English and Animal Studies, Rennes 2 University

Inge Bolin, Ph.D, VIU – Nanaimo, BC 

Elena Martin, MSc, BSc in Nutritional Science; PhD in Applied and Environmental Microbiology

Pamela Fergusson, RD, PhD

Susan Macfarlane, MScA, RD

Roman Moretti, B.Sc.(Pharm.), Pharmacist

Martine René, pharmacist

Jean-Jacques Kona-Boun, DMV, MSc, Diplômé American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia, Service d’anesthésiologie, Centre Vétérinaire DMV, Montréal, PQ, Canada

Patricia Bittar, Author, Droit animalier Québec pour la défense des êtres animaux au Québec

Jose Menguito

Christine Small

Shaked Kaplan

Deborah Chalmers

Ella Heyder, Ottawa

Connie Kennair

Marita Bray, Regina, Saskatchewan

Ken Bray, Regina, Saskatchewan

Judi Varga-Toth, MA

Ranjana Basu, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Royal Roads University

Prad Basu, BASc., Retired

Kyron Basu, MA, Sessional Instructor University of Victoria

Valéry Giroux, LL.M., Ph.D., Adjunct professor, Faculty of Law, University of Montreal; Fellow of the Oxford Center of Animal Ethics; and coordinator of the Centre de recherche en éthique (CRÉ)

Elise Desaulniers, Executive Director Montreal SPCA

Doug Bristor, Independent Researcher, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Angus Taylor, PhD, University of Victoria (retired)

François Jaquet, postdoctoral fellow, Centre de recherche éthique, Université de Montréal

Valerie Trew, MA, RECE, Faculty, Early Childhood Studies, University of Guelph-Humber; Director, Student Affairs, University of Guelph

Véronique Armstrong, M. Env., Doctoral student in philosophy, University of Montreal; Environmental researcher for the Communauté Droit animalier Québec (DAQ)

Caterina Lindman, FCIA

Jodi Lazare, DCL

Footnotes

1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7316645/
2http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3437e.pdf
https://www.worldcat.org/title/food-choice-and-sustainability-why-buying-local-eating-less-meat-and-taking-baby-steps-wont-work/oclc/865505136
https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987
https://www.pnas.org/content/115/15/3804.short
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0594-0
3https://ipbes.net/covid19stimulus
4https://ipbes.net/covid19stimulus
5While the exact origins of COVID-19 are uncertain, it is likely that the zoonotic infectious disease risks posed by the confinement of animals and animal-agriculture-related encroachment on wild animal habitat played key roles in its origin. This is true if it was transmitted from bats to an intermediate host to humans, as in SARS and MERS before it, but also if it resulted from gain of function studies that were being undertaken due to the intensified zoonotic infectious disease risks that the world faces due to animal agriculture and animal-agriculture-related encroachment on wild animal habitat.
6https://saltyisland.com/antibiotic-use-in-canadian-livestock/
7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3234384/
https://www.cbc.ca/news/supermarket-chicken-harbours-superbugs-cbc-1.1039548
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3194830/ https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2093791112320015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1277855/
8https://www.agcanada.com/daily/federal-government-funding-6-million-to-canada-pork-international
9https://www.canada.ca/en/agriculture-agri-food/news/2020/06/boosting-canadas-reputation-as-a-global-leader-in-plant-proteins.html
10https://thetransfarmationproject.org/
11https://www.vegansociety.com/take-action/campaigns/grow-green/farmers12
12https://vegconomist.com/interviews/refarmd-transitioning-farmers-out-of-dairy-we-want-to-give-back-the-power-to-farmers/