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PETITION TARGET: Detroit Police Chief James Craig
A young female pit bull found cruelly dumped in a trash can showed scars on her neck from chains and signs of breeding abuse, as she had clearly recently given birth to puppies.
The emaciated and terrified dog was likely used as a breeding machine and thrown away when she was no longer useful to her supposed caretakers. The new mother’s puppies were nowhere to be found, and their fate is still unknown.
Disposing of a living creature with no regard for her wellbeing is an unthinkable act of cruelty and must not be tolerated in our society. Anyone capable of such a barbaric deed should not be caring for any animal, especially newborn puppies. Police must find the perpetrator(s) soon.
Sign this petition urging the Detroit Police Chief James Craig to use all available resources to find the culprit(s) responsible for this heinous act of animal abuse and ensure he or she never harms another dog again.
This is an ongoing investigation. If anyone has any information, please contact the Michigan Humane Society at 313-872-3401.
As meatpackers rush to meet demand, their employees are starting to get COVID-19. But some workers say they’re going to work ill because they don’t have paid sick days and can be penalized for staying home.
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Here’s what has happened in the meatpacking industry in the last week alone:
A federal food safety inspector in New York City, who oversaw meat processing plants, died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
A poultry worker in Mississippi, employed by America’s third largest chicken company, tested positive for the virus, causing a half-dozen workers to self-quarantine. Another worker in South Dakota, employed by the world’s largest pork producer, also tested positive.
In Georgia, dozens of workers walked out of a Perdue Farms chicken plant, demanding that the company do more to protect them.
And Tyson Foods told ProPublica on Friday that “a limited number of team members” had tested positive for the disease.
As COVID-19 makes its way across the country, leading to panic grocery buying in state after state, the stresses on the nation’s food supply chain have ratcheted ever higher. But in industries like meatpacking, which rely on often grueling shoulder-to-shoulder work, so have the risks to workers’ health.
In interviews this week, meat and poultry workers, some in the country without authorization, noted with irony that they have recently been labeled “essential” by an administration now facing down a pandemic. Yet the rules of their workplaces — and the need to keep food moving — pressure them to work in close quarters, even when sick.
And it’s unclear how federal regulations that traditionally protect workers from harm in their workplaces will address a potentially deadly coronavirus.
“They are listening about social distancing on the TV and some of them try to practice it in their home, but when they go to work, they can’t do it,” said Father Roberto Mena, who ministers to many poultry workers at St. Michael Catholic Church in Forest, Mississippi.
Many of the nation’s meatpackers declined to respond to specific questions about how they’ve dealt with infected workers or what they’ve done to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their plants. Or they offered vague assurances that workers are being protected.
So far, only two meatpacking companies — Tyson Foods and Cargill — have announced companywide temperature checks to screen employees for signs of the virus. Two more say they have begun rolling them out.
But except for unionized plants, meat and poultry workers rarely get paid when they’re sick. At many companies, including Tyson, workers receive disciplinary points for calling in sick. Because points lead to termination, workers told ProPublica, they and some of their colleagues have continued to work even when sick, despite the coronavirus.
“We are all afraid,” said Maria, who works on the evisceration line at a Tyson plant in Arkansas and asked to be identified by her first name. “The problem is if people feel sick, they’re not going to say anything because they need the money. They don’t want the points.”
In an email, Tyson said it had recently altered its policies to allow workers who contract the coronavirus or exhibit symptoms to apply for short-term disability without a waiting period. “This is an evolving situation and we’re continuing to consider additional measures to support our team,” spokesman Worth Sparkman said. “We don’t want team members who feel sick to come to work.”
Tyson announced this month it was “eliminating any punitive effect for missing work due to illness.” But Maria said that at her plant, nothing had changed.
Despite the “essential” role meat and poultry workers play in the food chain, the sick-time bill signed by President Donald Trump last week doesn’t cover most meat and poultry workers because it exempts companies with more than 500 employees.
The uncertain economy, with millions of people filing jobless claims last week, is adding to the tension.
At Koch Foods in Mississippi, Ramirez, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who asked to go by his last name, said a woman who worked near him showed up for her shift last week with a heavy cough. But after she told her supervisor, he said, she was told she couldn’t come back. The message was clear, he said. So, when he started feeling sick a few days later, he simply kept quiet and continued working.
“People are worried,” Ramirez said, that if they say they are sick, “they’ll fire us.”
Going to the doctor is not an option, he said, because he doesn’t have health insurance and fears it could expose his immigration status.
Koch Foods didn’t respond to calls and emails asking about its policies for sick workers.
Even before the coronavirus, the meat industry had complained of a labor shortage as low pay and harsh conditions collided with a tight labor market, tighter borders and dramatic reductions by the Trump administration in the number of refugees, who make up the backbone of many plants’ workforce.
While there’s no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food, workers say they fear it could spread among them, even though they wear butcher coats and latex gloves, and the plants are sanitized every night.
If it does, it could take out a critical cog in the nation’s food supply chain just as it struggles to keep up with increased demand, workers and their advocates said. Grocery meat sales, excluding deli meat, surged a staggering 77% for the week ending March 15, according to one industry analysis.
To meet the demand, companies have been scrambling, adding additional weekend shifts and changing lines to produce whole birds and bigger cuts of beef. Under pressure from unions and wage increases at supermarkets and warehouses, some companies like Cargill and National Beef have announced temporary $2 per hour bonuses for the next several weeks to retain their workers and reward them for sticking through difficult times.
Company executives havesaid that the empty shelves aren’t a sign of a food shortage and that they’re capable of meeting the surge, aided in part by lower demand from restaurants that have been ordered to close.
“Our primary focus is to keep our plants running so that we can feed America,” Tyson’s president, Dean Banks, said on CNN. “We’re running the plants as hard as we can.”
And some analysts note that even if an outbreak of the virus forced a plant to close, the industry — with more than 500,000 employees at 4,000 slaughterhouses and processing plants across the country — is big enough to absorb the loss.
Tim Ramey, a retired food industry analyst, said “there could be significant disruptions” in a company’s output if an outbreak occurred. But supermarkets and restaurants buy meat from many suppliers, he said, and another plant could pick up the slack.
“There are plenty of ways you could have risk to the worker supply,” Ramey said. “I doubt that would be enough to disrupt the food supply.”
But no one knows what would happen if multiple plants suffered outbreaks.
The closest precedent may be immigration raids, which have temporarily shuttered meat and poultry plants periodically overthelast25years. For months after, those plants struggled to find new workers and ramp up to speed. But the supply lines continued to feed America.
Some immigrant workers caught up in those raids now marvel that the country is leaning on them. Last summer, after finishing his shift pulling the guts out of thousands of chickens, Ramirez flipped on his TV and watched in shock as immigration agents descended on central Mississippi, rounding up hundreds of his coworkers in the Trump administration’s biggest immigration sting.
In the weeks that followed, Ramirez watched the three children of a friend who’d been detained and hunkered down at home, fearing he could be next. It was easy to feel disposable, he said, especially when Trump praised the raids as “a very good deterrent.”
Now, when Ramirez watches the news, Trump is calling workers like him “critical,” telling them, “you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”
“I don’t understand, if they have a big need for all of the workers,” Ramirez asked, “why aren’t they worried about us?”
The slaughtering of chickens, hogs and cattle has become increasingly automated in the last few decades. But several tasks on the disassembly line still have to be done by hand. In poultry plants, in an area known as “live hang,” workers in a small, black-lit room crowd around a trough grabbing live chickens by their feet and hanging them on shackles.
In another area known as “debone,” workers stand side by side cutting raw chicken into breasts and tenders, so close that they occasionally cut coworkers with their knives.
In pork plants, workers are so packed together that a little over a decade ago, two dozen workers at a Minnesota factory developed a neurological illness from inhaling aerosolized pig brains that drifted from a nearby station that was making an ingredient used in stir-fry thickeners.
So even as everyone from the president to SnoopDogg are urging people to stay home and avoid groups of more than 10 people, meat and poultry workers are required to do the opposite.
ProPublica asked the nation’s largest meat companies what they were doing to try to achieve social distancing. Cargill, which produces billions of pounds of beef and turkey for supermarkets and restaurants each year, was the only company that said it was doing anything other than staggering start and break times. Daniel Sullivan, a spokesman for the Minnesota-based meatpacker, said it had increased spacing in its factory work areas and put up partitions in its cafeteria.
How the Meat Industry is Responding to the Coronavirus
Paid Sick Time
Set up “triage stations” to screen workers for temperature and symptoms. But unclear if all workers are tested.
$600 bonus for UFCW members
Staggered start and break times
No, but can receive short-term disability if sick from COVID-19 or exhibiting symptoms
Eliminating penalties for missing work due to illness
Separating, sending home workers with respiratory symptoms
Waived copays for doctor visits and 5-day waiting period for short-term disability
$2 per hour increase + $500 bonus
14 days if sick from COVID-19 or can’t find child care. Others receive paid sick time based on seniority and union contracts.
No penalties for missing work due to illness
Increased spacing in factory, staggered break schedule, partitions in cafeteria
During quarantine if test positive for COVID-19, unclear for others
$300 bonus, $150 for part-time workers
“Extended” but didn’t explain what that means
Waived waiting periods for certain benefits
$2 per hour increase
2 weeks if required to quarantine, unclear for others
Waived copays for medical care related to the coronavirus
Starting to roll out
$1 per hour increase
2 weeks if required to quarantine, unclear for others
No penalties for missing work due to quarantine
Providing employees with chicken products
2 weeks if showing symptoms of COVID-19 or required to quarantine, unclear for others
Sources: ProPublica research, company websites and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
The evisceration line where Maria, the Tyson employee, works doesn’t have as many people as other parts of the factory because it is heavily automated. But she said that because workers can’t leave the line unless it’s an emergency, she regularly encounters large crowds as everyone rushes to the bathroom during breaks. The company has placed hand sanitizers at the entrance, she said, but inside the plant, the bathrooms don’t always have paper towels.
As COVID-19 cases at the plants become public, workers fear it’s only the beginning.
On Monday, Sanderson Farms, the nation’s third largest chicken company, said an employee at its McComb, Mississippi, plant had tested positive for the virus. Sanderson said the employee’s work area was contained to one small processing table. In response, the company notified its workers and sent six other employees in the work area home to self-quarantine with pay.
The company did not respond to calls or emails seeking additional information.
On Thursday, a worker at pork producer Smithfield Foods’ plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, tested positive. The company told the Argus Leader that the employee’s work area and all common areas were “thoroughly sanitized.” But it did not say anything about workers who might have come in contact with the employee.
There have been even fewer details about the federal food safety inspector who died. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement that he was “terribly saddened to hear” that one of the department’s employees had passed away due to the coronavirus and thanked “those working on the front lines of our food supply chain.” But the department did not specify which plants the inspector had worked in or what had been done to alert or quarantine others the inspector may have been in contact with.
Paula Schelling, a union representative for the nation’s food inspectors at the American Federation of Government Employees, said the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service needs to do more to protect its front-line workers.
“FSIS is doing nothing to provide any protection for any employee who is out in the field,” she said. “They are just saying, ‘We are following the CDC guidelines.’ What does that mean to us?”
Concerns that meat companies aren’t being forthcoming have already led to increased anxiety at several plants. Workers who walked out of the Perdue plant in Georgia said the unrest started because supervisors dismissed concerns that some employees were continuing to work despite being in contact with people who had the coronavirus.
“We’re not getting nothing,” Kendilyn Granville told a TV news reporter outside the plant Monday night. “No type of compensation, no nothing, not even no cleanliness, no extra pay — no nothing. We’re up here risking our life for chicken.”
Perdue spokeswoman Diana Souder said that after speaking with managers, the majority of those who walked out returned to work.
“We know that many are feeling anxious during these uncertain times and we’re doing everything we can to take good care of our associates while continuing to produce safe and reliable food,” she said.
Typically, when workers feel unsafe, they can complain to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But it’s unclear how OSHA will respond to complaints related to the coronavirus. The agency, which has seen its ranks depleted under the Trump administration, has issued guidance for employers. But there is no specific standard related to the virus, and the agency has not said how it might interpret its general duty clause, which requires employers to keep their worksites free from recognized hazards that might cause death or “serious physical harm.”
Employers are only required to notify OSHA when an employee is hospitalized, suffers an amputation or is killed at work. But under a patchwork of rules, some employers might have to notify their state and local health departments.
As cases started to pop up this week, some employers began offering additional pay. Perdue said it would provide all hourly workers a $1-per-hour raise for the next several weeks. Hormel, the maker of Spam, said it would offer a $300 bonus for full-time workers and $150 for part-time associates.
On Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 250,000 food processing workers, said it had negotiated additional pay and benefits increases, including a $600 bonus in May for its members at the nation’s second-largest meatpacker, JBS, which includes Pilgrim’s chicken. JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett did not answer whether the company would match that for nonunion employees.
Several large meat and poultry companies, including Tyson, Smithfield, Sanderson and Koch, have not announced raises or bonuses.
On Friday, Perdue told ProPublica it was starting to roll out temperature checks at its plants. And Bruett said JBS had set up “triage stations” outside plants to screen employees for temperature and symptoms. But it’s unclear if all employees will be tested or only those exhibiting symptoms.
Meanwhile, Venceremos, a group advocating for poultry workers in northwest Arkansas, has started a petition asking that Tyson and other processors provide paid sick leave for workers as the coronavirus begins to spread to rural America.
“Everyone is realizing that they are essential and have been essential to the country,” said Magaly Licolli, one of the group’s leaders. “And now it’s time that everybody should demand fair rights for them. That’s what we’ve been arguing all this time. They are the ones that provide for the country.”
“One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.”
Martin Luther King
“To think that we can have viable human economy by destroying the Earth economy is absurd. Indigenous people still live in a universe, but we don’t- we live in an economic system.”
Thomas Berry, “The Mystique of the Earth”
The coronavirus did not manifest from nowhere. Our sadistic treatment and manipulation of animals for centuries has come back to haunt us. It is time for humanity to absorb the lessons of the animal world.
From the Orient the world has inherited a civilization upending event, this coronavirus feeding on the human strain. It is perhaps not a coincidence that it has manifested at the very time the UN is trying to form a Convention on Biological Diversity to protect what remains of the organic world. The contagion is the karmic result of our own ignorance and disregard of other species that began in China and that has visited us before. As Erin Sorrell, microbiologist at Georgetown, exclaims, 70 percent of zoonotic diseases come from wildlife.
As the 2003 SARS virus already proved. Then the culprit may have been Asian palm civets. Today’s pandemic may have been caused by pangolins. The scale-covered mammals are kept in caged conditions in markets in Asia in criminally appalling realities, reserved for dinner menus. Most animals in these markets are dying and thirsty and kept in squalid containers moved and shipped around as if they were simple commodities. The conditions are a nightmare and have even prompted many Chinese to close the animal trade. How we treat animals affects entire ecosystems and habitats, the only real wealth we as a species have. China’s ban on wild animal markets may well be the one silver lining in this ensuing global tragedy, but it should become a permanent ban, not a temporary palliative, because other viruses may well ensue in the not distant future given climate change is upon us.
Major conservation groups have also pleaded for Vietnam to take stringent measures to close its wildlife markets. Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered the ministry of agriculture and rural development to ban the consumption of wildlife. We can only hope these initiatives manifest quickly and foster a new relationship to what remains of the Mekong basin’s wildlife. Vietnam’s actions will hopefully prevent not only new outbreaks in the future but also keep even more potentially virulent viruses from overwhelming the globe.
Wall Street has had the jitters, tens of millions in China have been as impacted as when the Mongol Golden Horde swept into the Middle Kingdom in the 13th century. But whatever deaths have overtaken our species in the last few months, deaths that number in the thousands, we should not forget the root source of this scourge, humanity’s revolting disregard, manipulation, and outright slaughter of our fellow beings, the animals of earth.
The deafening silence of absent species marks our time as singular. What extinctions are happening will become more impactful than WWI, WWII or the Great Depression combined, because now we have an enormous, almost unfathomable ecological tab to reckon with, and not just the folly of an economic system run amuck. The entire spectrum of nature’s syllabus is being played out. Our relationship with the sentient world will have to reverse or we perish. The coronavirus is the tip of the iceberg.
Animals were always considered cardinal spiritual, sentient and even intellectual beings in the lives of indigenous peoples and many civilizations past. But as colonial and technological powers overran the world, indigenous peoples were treated no better than the buffalo, or whale or pangolin or bat. And now our disregard of the others bears a karmic component we cannot ignore.
The criminal neglect and dismantling of Nature over the last century has led us to a point where globalization itself will have to be rapidly reappraised. Wall Street may have lost some ground, but the mounting possible extinction toll is many magnitudes more vital than the arbitrary machinations of the Dow. The death toll on millions of acres of rainforests lost, coral reefs bleached and species eradicated the world over has brought us to this point. It is the invisible aura of loss we have inherited. It is the karma our species is inheriting. The locust invasion of east Africa is a Biblical cohort to the virus of East Asia. Now our entire immune system as a species and that of the planet is under siege.
Paul Shepard, the eloquent ecologist who wrote triumphantly about the importance of animals, wrote in “The Others: How Animals Made Us Human,” “People are asked to rely on faith in the invisible and intangible, repudiating the beasts on which primal peoples depend as intermediaries, embodying spirits, affirming death, giving form to the mystery of the multiple truths of mortal existence, and acting as vehicle to other realms.” It is not coincidental that this “Christian-” based society has so neglected its first teachers, the animals, for several thousand years and put so much faith in invisible gods and the afterlife, intangibles that have divorced us from life and the very soil on which we depend for our survival.
We have in Henry Heston’s words become “cosmic outlaws.” If we lose the animals, we will become inconsolable orphans. This most minute but insidious of beings, the coronavirus is a wake-up call to our unconscious selves. We have wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of technological, synthetic and decorative cultural achievement burdened with pride that strains and depletes our full values as sentient beings. In the process we have ignored the suffering and sentience of others. The physiologist Rene Dubos once wrote that humans could adapt “to starless skies, treeless avenues, shapeless buildings, tasteless bread, joyless celebrations, spiritless pleasures — to a life without reverence for the past, love for the present, or poetical anticipations of the future, but it is questionable that man can retain his physical and mental health if he loses contact with the natural forces that have shaped his biological and mental nature.”
How we converse and conduct ourselves in the next year or two will morph into a different realm of relating, and hopefully into a more respectful species. We may need to grow roots under our feet once again and cultivate what Levi Strauss called an “ecological civicism.” We may need more than a pause from the pace of globalization that began to convulse the world two generations ago. Will we return to the same numbers game of outlandish growth, and greed when already much of the pollution from northern China seems to have dissipated from the map? Is not our entire fixation on profit a psychic numbing that has divorced us from ecological coherence?
Maybe the coronavirus is a warning sign, the first real test of our global community that has emerged from the Pandora’s box of an increasingly incorrigible species. Amazon-size ecosystems are in jeopardy. This insidious half live, half un-live being called corona has taken over our sleep and waking life like an alien invasion. Let us be grateful the next time we see a flock of birds flying miraculously overhead, or the next time we see a koala holding on to a branch for dear life, or the next time we see a dolphin dancing over the waves. And know these beings did not have to die a merciless, hapless, sick death in some market of central China where this virus originated.
The virus has given us a fever, yes, just as we have imposed a fever on the climate of the earth. Milan Kundera in the “Unbearable Lightness of Being” reminds us in one of the most poignant lines ever written, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test, which is deeply buried from view, consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.”
And it is possible that the coronavirus may be just another contagion in a long line of lessons we will have to inherit from our fellow creatures. Recently a wolf’s head was discovered by mammoth tusk hunters in Siberia dating from 30,000 years ago. What viruses are embedded in its flesh? What strains will invade our civilization like ghosts from a forgotten Pleistocene seeping out from under the crying and collapsing torrent of glaciers up north, seeping slowly onto our shores? Will we learn the lesson that the pangolin, one of the most trafficked and severely abused mammals on earth, the one that has filled so many markets in Asia, is teaching us now across the time zones of the world? Will we make sure now that it does not go extinct? Even its exquisite plates, the only armored mammal on Earth, could not protect itself from the diabolic hunger of our species. Will the coronavirus humble us to the reality that humans make up just .01 percent of life on Earth? Will we have to absorb a virus so virulent, so complete in its ability to create havoc from the melting permafrost in the Arctic that humanity will become irreparably crippled?
The coronavirus in its all-pervasive pandemonium is a wake-up call, not just to our well-being and souls but also how we had better conduct ourselves towards the other species of this Earth, they who enable life as we know it. The coronavirus is a karmic test that we need to pass, so that we as a species can transcend our conduct on this planet we have maligned and mistreated for far too long.
One immensely vital and fragile bioregion that promises potentially lethal pathogens is the Arctic. The great thaw at the top of the world, with ice melting at an extraordinary rate, with polar bears, whales and many other beings having to survive the immune breakdown of the region, is the main reason Shell and other mining and fossil fuel industries should stay clear from the region. Five years ago French scientists discovered a “giant virus” in a 30,000- year-old sample of permafrost in Siberia that had retained its infectivity. If we industrialize these areas and ride roughshod over the roof of the world we risk waking up pathogens we thought we had eradicated or help foster the spread of things even worse than smallpox, said researcher Jean Michel Claverie.
Jean Malaurie, the remarkable French geologist and explorer of the Arctic who fought for the preservation of the Inuit from the contrivances and pollution of Western man, once expounded, “Men of science, like men of state have a duty imposed by ethics. The Earth is living: it can and will avenge itself: already there are portents. The Earth has no time left for man’s ignorance, arrogance, sophistry and madness.”
One lab is digging into its freezer to thaw out the archived sperm of SARS-susceptible mice. Another is anesthetizing ferrets so they don’t sneeze when the new coronavirus is squirted into their nostrils. Yet others are racing to infect macaques, marmosets, and African green monkeys.
Those animals could prove critical for understanding how Covid-19 works — and for concocting vaccines and treatments to stop its sweep. Every day, it seems another company announces an attempt to make its own virus-fighting vials. But to test an experimental formulation, scientists can’t just jump from Petri dishes into people. They need to try it in critters first, to check that the stuff is safe and effective.
Now, researchers are rushing to figure out which creatures work best, a task that could take months. “We’re at the ‘Uh oh, it’s complicated’ stage,” said Lisa Gralinski, a microbiologist and assistant professor of epidemiology who studies coronaviruses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The trouble is, labs can’t just use whatever animal they have lying around to start testing their shiniest Covid-19 vaccine. Not every animal is susceptible to the virus, and those that are may not show signs of disease. Even if they do get sick, that doesn’t mean their symptoms match the ones doctors hope to prevent and treat in humans, which can run the gamut from almost unnoticeable cough to life-threatening lung injury.
An infected but asymptomatic animal can tell scientists whether drugs or vaccines effectively fight the pathogen. Yet because severe disease might be partially driven by the human immune system itself — a violent inflammatory response to a viral intruder — those creatures that can slough off this coronavirus without looking any worse for wear can’t tell us everything.
“If you don’t have animals getting sick, it’s hard to know what you’re doing,” said Stanley Perlman, a University of Iowa pediatrician and microbiologist who specializes in coronaviruses. “We know that if you clear the virus and don’t deal with the clinical disease and host immune response, you may still have a sick animal or a sick person.”
Past outbreaks can provide some guidance, but what worked then won’t necessarily fit the bill now. With SARS — another coronavirus that passed from animals into humans and caused a serious outbreak, starting in 2002 — the pathogen could infect run-of-the-mill mice, but only to a limited extent, and didn’t cause the same sort of respiratory disease it did in people. A similar pattern was seen in macaques, marmosets, and African green monkeys, as well as ferrets. From a virus-replication standpoint, at least, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found the golden Syrian hamster “an excellent model.”
But then, when MERS emerged, likely from camels, about a decade later, the coronavirus responsible seemed especially comfortable infecting primates and hoofed relations of its animal reservoir — with lung infections less severe in marmosets than macaques, nasal drip observed in camels but not alpacas. Mice, ferrets, and hamsters, meanwhile, simply weren’t susceptible.
So the first question to sort out is what kinds of cells the Covid-19 virus can infect — an issue that has its roots in the pathogen’s architecture.
As specks of genetic material inside a protein envelope, viruses wobble on the edge of being alive. Their metabolic machinery only truly fires into action when they get inside a cellular host. To do that, they use a molecule on the outside of a cell as a kind of portal, like burglars slipping in through a skylight or fire escape.
“Viruses tend to coopt these molecules and use them as their receptors,” explained Kanta Subbarao, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, in Melbourne, Australia, who spent years doing coronavirus animal research.
Because those receptors evolved differently from one species to another, depending on the purpose they’re supposed to serve within the body, the viral proteins that can unlock a human cell can’t necessarily do the same in a macaque or mouse.
Virologists hoped the new virus would multiply in mice. They’re cheap and plentiful and easy to work with, meaning that important experiments could get started quicker. No such luck, it seems. When a group in Wuhan led by virologist Shi Zheng-Li adorned cells with receptors from a variety of mammals, the team found the virus could latch onto those of horseshoe bats, civets, and pigs — but not mice.
There are ways around that: One is to repeatedly pass the virus through mice, until it evolves to infect them. The other is to give the rodents human receptors, either inserting the molecules locally in the respiratory tract or breeding mice that have virus-susceptibility wired into the entire body’s DNA.
While scientists were disappointed to see that everyday mice may be resistant to the virus that causes Covid-19, it has given them a lucky break: There’s evidence that it uses the same receptor as the SARS pathogen. In other words, the animals they made during that outbreak may be relevant. But they aren’t necessarily ready to use.
About 15 years ago, Perlman’s lab engineered some mice to have the receptors SARS coopts to gain entry into our cells. But maintaining that colony was work in and of itself. Lab members had to keep propagating them, swiping skin and tail samples to check that they still had the desired genetic makeup.
By 2009 or so, long after the SARS outbreak had died down, that seemed like a waste of resources. “We kept them for an extra five years and decided, ‘We are not using these mice, no reason to keep them,’” Perlman said. So his team collected some sperm, froze it down, and sent it off to Jackson Labs for safekeeping. Then they got rid of the colony.
Early this year, Gralinksi’s lab was preparing to do the same with mice left over from SARS work. “We were about a week away from killing all of them and cryopreserving the line,” she said. Her team had started the necessary paperwork when they heard news of a strange sort of pneumonia popping up in Wuhan, China — a coronavirus, people said. “It was like, ‘All of those mice, we need to set them up as breeders immediately,” she recalled. “So our colony is in the growing phase right now; we’re not ready to do experiments.”
At Jackson Labs, in Maine, Perlman’s mouse sperm has given rise to a new generation — but it’s not ready to be infected with the virus yet, either. As Cathleen Lutz, senior director of the mouse repository at the non-profit’s rare and orphan disease center, wrote in an email to STAT, “Our first litters have been born just days ago.”
Gralinksi’s mice should be ready for studies by April, Lutz’s by May. “I must get two emails a day asking for the mice,” Perlman said.
Some researchers in Beijing have posted promising but preliminary and unreviewed results online after showing that the virus infects these modified mice and injures their lungs, while at the NIH, researchers are testing a Covid-19 vaccine from Moderna Therapeutics on normal mice to check whether it generates an immune response — yet it will take longer before animals are ready for evaluating the safety and efficacy of drugs and vaccines.
In the meantime, Perlman is also working on delivering human receptors into the lungs of rodents, using a different, harmless virus as a Trojan horse. He knows those quick-fix animals may allow for some studies on fighting virus replication, but probably won’t be much help in understanding the progression of disease.
Just as virus susceptibility can change from animal to animal, so can the accompanying symptoms. That’s why researchers are beginning to test a whole menagerie’s worth of species.
“To understand what goes on following infection in humans, we need a model that reflects that severe pneumonia and acute lung injury,” explained Rudragouda Channappanavar, a veterinarian who studies coronaviruses at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, “especially for severe patients that are in the ICU.”
In Saskatoon, Canada, tests to see the effects of the coronavirus in ferrets began last week. “If you infect ferrets with some influenza viruses, they get very similar symptoms to what humans get,” said Darryl Falzarano, a research scientist focusing on coronaviruses at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization’s International Vaccine Centre, at the University of Saskatchewan. “They actually cough and sneeze. They have similar lung pathology. But that’s flu.” He isn’t yet sure that that’ll be true of the new virus.
With many of these animals, the plan is to sample different tissues and fluids at different time points, to check that the animal was indeed infected, and if so, where the virus is hanging out in which species, and for how long.
“This initial study is just to find out whether these species of animals can be infected, whether they demonstrate the clinical signs, whether they have an immune response … where the virus is shed, whether it’s in urine, tears, feces, blood,” said Skip Bohm, chief veterinary medical officer at Tulane University’s National Primate Research Center, in Covington, Louisiana.
Last week, scientists there received a sample of the virus that causes Covid-19, swabbed from a patient in Seattle and shipped in a vial within a leak-proof, Tyvek-sleeved bag, within a rigid outer box, as per Department of Transportation requirements. They’re now waiting for regulatory approval to start experiments.
In the meantime, they’re working to reassure the lab’s neighbors that their research will help combat the outbreak rather than worsen it. “What typically has been expressed is just the idea of bringing coronavirus into the area, the idea that it’s not here yet, there have been no cases, and we’re bringing it into the area — that has been the concern,” said Bohm.
They’ve been reaching out to nearby schools and local officials to explain what goes on behind the locked doors of the center. “What we’ve seen is a lot of positive response … to our part in developing vaccines,” Bohm said. “Because everybody wants that.”
As with many labs around the world, though, it’s still up in the air exactly when that work will begin.
A B.C. man filmed throwing a so-called “bear banger” into a raft of sea lions near Hornby Island last spring is facing charges under the Fisheries Act and Explosives Act.
The video, which came to light last March, shows Allen Marsden lighting the fuse on one of the explosive noise-makers and throwing it into the water where a large number of the animals had congregated.
The dairy industry used to get a free pass, even from many animal rights campaigners. But with the mainstream emergence of veganism, more people are becoming aware of practices that are normal in milk production. Now, they are even talking about it at the Oscars.
In his acceptance speech for the best actor award, Joaquin Phoenix spoke of our “egocentric world view” and how we “plunder” the natural world for its resources. Turning to dairy, he said: “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakeable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
The reality of dairy farming can be shocking for people who have always assumed milking a cow is harmless. From the age of 15 months, female cows are artificially inseminated with semen drawn mechanically from a bull. Once born, the calf will usually be taken away within 36 hours. This is so farmers can take the milk the mothers are making. Experts say that a strong bond is formed quickly after birth and the separation is traumatising for both cow and calf.
If the calf is male, he will be considered a byproduct and either killed immediately or sold on to be raised as veal, which postpones his death for a few months. If it’s female, she will follow her mother in the cycle of forced pregnancies until she is too old to carry on, after which she will be killed.
The rise of veganism is hitting dairy bosses hard. Sales of plant-based milks are soaring. Last year it was revealed that almost a quarter of Britons are consuming non-dairy milk alternatives. Meanwhile, the average person’s milk consumption in the UK has fallen by 50% since the 50s.
Phoenix linked the oppression of animals with the oppression of humans. The “cries of anguish” from mother cows are finally being heard.
Two environmental groups made a formal announcement that they will file a lawsuit to protect endangered beluga whales whose numbers have plummeted recently, as the AP reported.
The suit aims to void permits allowed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that opened up oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet in southern Alaska. The suit alleges that NOAA violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing the permits without protecting Cook Island belugas. The law requires the formal 60-day notice before the agency can be sued, according to The Associated Press.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper teamed up to send notice that they will sue NOAA.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a disturbing new population estimate last week that showed whale numbers are far lower than previous estimates and their numbers are dropping rapidly, as Reuters reported.
The NMFS report estimated that only 279 beluga whales remain in Cook Inlet, a steep decline from the nearly 1,300 that lived there in 1979. The population decline has accelerated to an annual rate of 2.3 percent over the last decade, which is four times faster than previous estimates, according to NMFS, as Reuters reported.
Cook Inlet runs almost 200 miles from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska. It supplies energy for the south-central part of the state. The industrial activities there threaten beluga whales, which swim there and feast on salmon and other fish, according to The Independent.
The Center for Biological Diversity said these “daunting” numbers mean exploration planned by Hillcorp Alaska needs to stop immediately, as The Independent reported.
The plaintiffs are demanding a new assessment of oil and gas exploration since the Trump administration used higher, inaccurate beluga whale numbers when it gave a permit to Hillcorp Alaska. The permit allows the petroleum company to “take” beluga whales as part of its operations. “Take” is a nebulous term that allows the company to harass and harm whales. The environmental groups want a guarantee that Cook Inlet belugas can recover from any of Hillcorp Alaska’s operations, according to The Associated Press.
“Since we pressed for listing the Cook Inlet Beluga whale as endangered in 2008, the drive for corporate profits and complacent government bureaucrats have conspired to stifle progress for this dwindling stock,” said Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for Cook Inletkeeper, in a statement. “Hilcorp should do the right thing and abandon its plans for new drilling in Cook Inlet.”
Last summer, the Trump administration loosened environmental regulations that allowed for new mining, oil and gas drilling where protected species live, according to The Independent.
“The tragic decline of these lovely little whales spotlights the risk of allowing oil exploration in their habitat,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “If we’re going to save these belugas, the Trump administration must cancel permission for the oil industry to use seismic blasting and pile driving in Cook Inlet. These animals are hanging on by a thread, and we can’t let them be hurt even more.”
The groups said that seismic blasting used in exploration and deep-sea mining causes blasts heard miles away. The blasts can register up to 250 decibels. For reference, standing next to a jackhammer is 100 decibels. Those underwater blasts can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, severely disrupt communication between pods, disturb feeding and breeding grounds, and reduce their ability to catch fish, according to the environmental groups, as The Associated Press reported.
Each evening, under cover of darkness, hundreds of live pigs from farms across China are trucked through the rusting gates of a cluster of mildew-stained quarantine and inspection buildings in the Qingshuihe logistics zone in Shenzhen.
Overnight they are checked for illness, primarily the African swine fever (ASF) that is expected to kill off a quarter of the world’s pigs, and reloaded on to ventilated trucks with dual mainland China and Hong Kong licence plates.
Before sunrise the caravan makes its way five-and-a-half miles south to the border at Man Kam To, a small customs and immigration checkpoint, where the pigs go through further visual health checks before crossing into Hong Kong.
They are bound for Sheung Shui slaughterhouse, the largest of three abattoirs in the territory. Once there they will be checked again before being dispatched in less than 24 hours under new rules meant to prevent the spread of ASF.
It’s a lot of effort to get fresh meat from the 1,400 pigs that cross the border each day.
The appetite for freshly slaughtered ‘warm meat’
For various reasons, the Chinese prefer freshly slaughtered pig, chicken and beef over chilled or frozen meat that has been slaughtered before being shipped.
That desire is at the heart of why diseases such as avian flu in poultry and ASF have been so difficult to eradicate, with huge movements of live animals from all over the country – from farm to slaughterhouse to market – on a daily basis making controlling the spread of disease incredibly difficult.
A recent coronavirus outbreak in China has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan, eastern China. Like other respiratory illnesses, the disease was initially transmitted from animal to human, but is now being passed human to human.
But despite awareness of the issues, the markets are a huge part of Chinese life. On a busy morning at a so-called “wet market” in the Shajing area, the oldest inhabited and very Cantonese part of Shenzhen, hundreds of shoppers arrive soon after daybreak. Slabs of pork hang from the stalls and various cuts are piled on the counters amid lights with a reddish glare and the occasional buzzing of flies.
Just a few minutes away at the nearby Walmart, where there are also options for fresh, chilled and frozen meat, the customer flow at this time of day is only a trickle compared to the wet market. It has your average western supermarket vibe – white daylight lighting, sterile and clean.
Staff at the meat counter in Walmart and at the stalls in the wet market both say the meat comes in from the same slaughterhouse around 2am. So why the huge difference in foot traffic?
Molly Maj, a corporate communications representative for Walmart, says “the average customer in China still prefers fresh meat” over other options.
One reason for the demand for wet markets is that widespread refrigeration only came to China in recent years. While most urban homes now have refrigerators, many in rural areas and low income urban renters still do not own one, or only a mini-fridge if they do.
The habit of buying perishable food for daily use is still prevalent in many consumers, particularly older shoppers who grew up without refrigerators. They say they can tell the quality of fresh meat by its smell, colour and how it feels to the touch.
“When I’m talking with my students I say: ‘The term warm meat, fresh meat, sounds disgusting to me, I grew up [in Germany] with chilled meat, that’s all I know,” Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of veterinary medicine at City University in Hong Kong and an expert on diseases related to animal husbandry, says.
“So I ask them why and they come up with all sorts of vague things like the soup tastes better or that it is a trust issue, knowing it is a live animal at the other end and not some diseased animal,” he says. “It’s all very subjective.”
An ‘utter disaster’ for disease
Wet markets are central to the perception that fresh meat is better, says Pfeiffer. They evoke nostalgia among shoppers, many of whom come from rural areas where all they knew were wet markets and no refrigeration.
Where a wet market feels familiar a supermarket can seem alien and out of place.
“I actually believe that it is an important thing for the older generation to go to the wet market and chat,” says Pfeiffer. However, the way the animal trade operates in China is “an utter disaster”, for animal disease and welfare, he adds.
A year ago, before rising concerns about the spread of ASF, nearly 4,000 pigs crossed daily with less scrutiny. Pigs were held in dismal conditions for as long as five days before being slaughtered on the Hong Kong side, greatly enhancing the possibility of disease transmission, says Pfeiffer.
The recent shortages due to the ASF outbreak have doubled and tripled prices for fresh pork at wet markets across Hong Kong. Farms in Hong Kong itself can usually supply about 300 pigs a day. Land use and environmental restrictions prevent any increase in production. The result is further worries about Hong Kong’s reliance on mainland China beyond its water and energy dependence.
“Many years ago, we had imports from all over Asia of live animals, but eventually the entire supply was monopolised by mainland China,” said Helena Wong, a member of Hong Kong’s legislative council panel on food safety and environmental hygiene. “They killed all their competitors and monopolised the supply of live pig and chicken.”
More than 6,000 pigs at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse were culled in May 2019 after ASF was found among animals brought in from China. Hong Kong’s legislative council is now trying to figure out how much it owes traders and farmers in compensation.
Massive culls of poultry due to avian flu in imported mainland chickens in the last decade also led to large compensation bills and, eventually, to ending live chicken imports in early 2016.
“We as taxpayers have to give that money,” said Wong. “So now we are in a big crisis because in the past few years we have experienced avian flu and now African swine fever.”
A future beyond ‘warm meat’ for Hong Kong
Disease outbreaks have raised wider questions about the sustainability of Chinese consumers’ appetite – both on the mainland and in Hong Kong – for what is often called “warm” meat.
For Deborah Cao, a professor at Griffith University in Australia and an expert on animal protection in China, a deeper issue driving the live animal trade is a cultural disconnect about animal welfare.
“The main problem is the indifference or perception of people who simply regard animals as food, tools, or as things that people can do anything they want to,” she said.
“In particular, there is no perception of farm animals as having feelings, or being capable of feeling pain or suffering.”
Hong Kong may find it difficult to switch to a different model. There is almost no chance of farm expansion to support larger scale production within Hong Kong and, although the government is looking at possibilities of live imports from other Asian countries, the ports do not have adequate facilities to cope with large numbers.
“To a large extent, if we insist on fresh food, we have to rely on China,” said Wong. “If we can change and make certain concessions, Hong Kong has always been an open market for importing food items from many parts of the world. It is only for the provision of live animals that we are monopolised by the mainland farms.”
WASHINGTON – The virus that has caused dozens of deaths and hundreds of illnesses worldwide emerged from a market in Wuhan, China, that sold live food animals, including some animals caught in the wild, according to Chinese authorities.
A price list circulated on Chinese social media showed snakes, hedgehogs, peacocks, civet cats, scorpions, centipedes and more for sale at the market.
It’s not the first time these markets have bred a new disease, and experts said it probably won’t be the last. Severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS, originated at a similar market in China in 2002. It ultimately claimed nearly 800 lives.
Bird flu spread in these markets in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The H5N1 strain of influenza has killed 455 people since 2003.
Without proper sanitation and animal handling, health officials said, these markets can be spawning grounds for diseases.
Live animal markets are found across the developing world, especially in Asia and Africa.
Most animals sold there are healthy. But in the crowded conditions at these markets, one sick animal can infect many more, experts said.
Wild animals introduce a dangerous wild card.
For example, civet cats carried the virus that caused SARS. But scientists think the virus originated in bats.
“In the normal world, these species would never meet,” said veterinarian Tony Goldberg, associate director for research at the University of Wisconsin Global Health Institute.
“But in these live animal markets, they brought those two species together,” he said. “And when you do that in these tight, crowded, stressful conditions, you create every opportunity for these viruses to jump host species.”
The virus could spread when a vendor butchers an animal. Or a sick animal could spread it through its saliva, urine, feces or other secretions.
Humans and domesticated animals have been exposed to each other’s diseases for millennia. We’ve developed some defenses. That’s not the case with a new virus coming from a wild animal, Goldberg said.
The virus lottery
Given how common these markets are around the world, it’s almost surprising that new outbreaks don’t happen more often, veterinarian William Karesh, executive vice president for health and policy at EcoHealth Alliance, said.
“I’ve gone to a market in Southeast Asia and they’re selling maybe 5,000 or 6,000 bats every week,” he said. “And that’s just one market. As you drive around, there’s 20 or 30 of those markets within a few hours’ drive. So now we’re talking about tens of thousands of bats for sale, and tens of thousands of rats (and other species). And that’s going on throughout much of the world.
“So we’re talking, really, about millions of animals for sale on a daily basis and tens of millions of people shopping there,” Karesh said.
For a virus looking for a different species to infect, he said, it’s like playing the lottery.
“Your chances of winning are pretty high when you’ve got exposure to 10 or 15 or 20 million people every day,” Karesh said.
People often don’t shop at these markets by choice, he said. When refrigeration is not available, the best way to get fresh meat is to buy it when it’s still alive. And customers can see if the animal is healthy before they buy it.
Also, many wild-caught foods are “deeply cherished in many cultures around the world,” not just in Africa and Asia, Goldberg said, even if they may carry diseases.
In the United States, rabbits carry tularemia, a bacterial disease that can be fatal. It’s on the list of potential bioterror weapons.
“You’ll see human cases pop up every now and then when rabbit hunters cut themselves when butchering a rabbit,” Goldberg said, adding he knows a rabbit hunter who got tularemia twice.
The Chinese government closed live animal markets after SARS. But the markets have slowly reopened in the years since.
The government could close them again. But what may ultimately solve the problem is not a government mandate but a cultural shift.
Around the world, Karesh said, more young people are shopping at supermarkets.
“The grocery store is selling chilled refrigerated chicken, and it’s cheaper,” he said. “And people are busy. They’re going to work. They don’t really have time to go to that live animal market anymore.”
Plus, he added, attitudes are changing. Older people may see wild animals as a delicacy. The younger generation? Not so much.
“I don’t think they’re so interested in going to the live animal markets anymore to watch a bat be slaughtered or have a chicken have its throat cut,” he said.
“Twenty years ago, there weren’t many people in China who had pet dogs,” he said. Now, “there’s a new generation of people that when they see a dog, they’re not thinking about food. They’re thinking about, ‘Oh, wow, what a wonderful opportunity to have a pet.’”
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LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A Lakewood woman said the laws need to be changed after her condominium has been trapping and killing squirrels.
“I don’t think this is a humane way to deal with this at all,” Klaudia Sekulska said.
The traps are placed on the roof outside her window.
She said someone in the building complained the squirrels were getting into the attic, and a local pest control company was called.
“There are different ways to go about it. You don’t have to let an animal freeze to death overnight and then put it in a black garbage bag. That’s not dignified for anyone,” she said.
Colorado law allows pest control companies to operate under the same rules as homeowners. It’s legal to trap and, in some cases, poison squirrels that are damaging property.
Sekulska said the laws should change.
“It’s a permit to kill, and that’s what’s happening here. We’re proud of our animals and our wildlife, and it was National Squirrel Day yesterday,” Sekulska said.
Sekulska brought her concerns to animal control, property managers and her HOA.
She said they haven’t done enough to patch the holes in the roof or bring in proper trash bins before resorting to killing the animals.
Denver7 reached out to the HOA for comment but did not hear back.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends removing pet food and trash that may be attracting squirrels, create barriers, and use ammonia as a deterrent.
If you believe any animal is being abused or is being treated inhumanely, you can file a complaint with Colorado Parks and Wildlife or your local animal control.