The findings suggest cold-blooded animals will be even hotter and hungrier in a warmer world than previously thought. This may increase their extinction risk.
Life in the poles provides insights into the first animals on Earth. According to a recent study, the amazing survival techniques of polar marine creatures...
As an environmental journalist and a parent, I worry that the animals in my son’s bedtime stories will disappear before he learns they’re real.
Officials reported that thousands of fish died within days of the chemical spill caused by a derailed train, potentially due to contamination of local waterways
The presence of even a few humans in national parks can have significant impacts on the behavior of the wildlife that live there, a new study has found. People might already expect that animals would change their routines to avoid humans at popular parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone — which can see more than a million...
The oceanic soup of plastic fragments is becoming a new kind of ecosystem.
Dead birds and bats could help scientists make green energy safer.
This story was originally published by Wired and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Animal testing has long been necessary for a drug to gain approval by the US Food and Drug Administration—but it may be on its way out. A new law seeks to replace some lab animal use with […]
Microphones capture ultrasonic crackles from plants that are water-deprived or injured
This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. It was a confronting moment for a vegetarian. First, a pork meatball and then slices of bacon, balanced in a sort of mini BLT, were served to eat by beaming, expectant hosts. The meat even came from a named pig, an […]
Past Presentation | In October 2002, the first political party worldwide was founded which does not base its policy on human-centric thinking. The Party for the Animals represents a new political movement that values animal welfare and the environment. "The foundation of The Party for the Animals was received with much skepticism within traditional politics. However, the Party for the Animals quickly appeared to function as a pacer in the marathon", recalls Marianne Thieme - co-founder and party leader. The Pacer in the Marathon is a documentary on the first ten years of the Party for the Animals. Next to in-depth interviews with the party founders, the film provides an insight into the public reception of this pioneering political movement, within science, politics and media.
Past Presentation | Dominion uses drones, hidden and handheld cameras to expose the dark underbelly of modern animal agriculture, questioning the morality and validity of humankind’s dominion over the animal kingdom. While mainly focusing on animals used for food, it also explores other ways animals are exploited and abused by humans, including clothing, entertainment and research. Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Sia, Sadie Sink and Kat Von D, and co-produced by Earthlings creator Shaun Monson. Filmed in Australia, with a global message.
Ocean animals are growing sicker from ingesting too much plastic
Past Presentation | Philip Wollen makes an impactful case against animals on your menus in front of an audience at the St. James Ethics Centre and the Wheeler Centre. Wollen then passes the debate onto a six-person panel, with three members supporting his case and three making an argument to continue to keep animals on the menu.
The number of live animals seized by the Australian Government has tripled since 2017, with blue-tongue lizards and sulphur-crested cockatoos frequently captured.
Past Presentation | Filmed in a fly-on-the-wall style, this raw and inspiring documentary follows 26-year-old Manoj Gautam, a modern day, third world hero on a passionate quest to protect animals and wildlife from cruelty and extinction. Inspired by the work of his mentor, Dr. Jane Goodall, and with minimal resources and no formal training, Gautam is creating a network of allies across the country, busting animal smugglers, protecting fragile ecosystems, rescuing abused animals, and galvanizing an environmental movement.
Past Presentation | More action adventure than traditional documentary, this film follows the world’s most ambitious and daring animal rescue, with a narrative compiled from film, interviews, conversations, and reactions as events unfolded. How attitudes toward animals were changed in Bolivia, illegal circuses pursued and closed, and 25 lions airlifted to freedom.
“Given the choice between cruelty and kindness, I believe most humans will choose kindness.”
Past Presentation | Director note: “Through 3 years of researching what the Cheetah Conservation Fund and other NGOs were doing in the way of conservation . . I realised that there was a big focus on the illegal trade of dead animal parts, but no one was telling the story of the illegal trade in live animals, especially those destined for the pet trade.” This film looks at the illegal wildlife trade of cheetah cubs, and the role social media plays in the parading and trading of exotic animals online. Hundreds of cheetah cubs are being stolen from the wild, which is decimating the wild population in Africa. For every 5 cubs that are taken, only 1 survives. They are being smuggled illegally into the Middle East to be sold as pets.
More than a third of both animals and plants in the U.S. are currently at risk of extinction, while over 40 percent of ecosystems are at risk of collapse, according to an analysis released Monday by nonprofit NatureServe. The nonprofit group’s analysis, based on 50 years of data, determined 34 percent of plants and 40...
American bison are back on the rise. The problem is, they don't respect fences.
Past Presentation | Earthlings is an award-winning documentary film about the suffering of animals for food, fashion, pets, entertainment and medical research. Considered the most persuasive documentary ever made, Earthlings is nicknamed “the Vegan maker” for its sensitive footage shot at animal shelters, pet stores, puppy mills, factory farms, slaughterhouses, the leather and fur trades, sporting events, circuses and research labs.
Evolved adaptations of female animals could help solve women’s health challenges
Have you heard about "One environmental health"? It's a subset of "One Health," the concept that the health of animals, humans and the environment are interconnected. One environmental health focuses on how toxic chemicals impact that shared health.In this video, discover how Dr. Wise went from studying whales in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to comparative genomics of cancers in dogs, sea lions and people, and ultimately to researching how environmental exposures impact the health of pet dogs. Together these experiences fueled her passion for One environmental health, aiming to create a healthier world for us and our pets.Catherine F. Wise, Ph.D., Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke UniversityCatherine Wise is a postdoctoral associate in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University investigating the role of environmental exposures and health outcomes in pet dogs; under the premise that our pets act as sentinels for human health. The concept that the health of the environment, animals and people is interconnected, known as One Health, is integral to Catherine’s approach to her research. She is passionate about how environmental exposures impact the health of animals and humans. She obtained her Ph.D. in toxicology from North Carolina State University following a Bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Southern Maine.Learn moreFollow Dr. Wise on Twitter @CFWisePhDFind her on LinkedIn here.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has upped its estimate for the number of animals killed by the derailment of train cars carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, to nearly 44,000. The department estimates around 38,222 minnows were killed by the derailment within a 5-mile span, plus around 5,500 other species, including other...
Now Playing | The Canary Islands are a whale Paradise. Their waters hold more than a third of the world’s species, making it the most important enclave in the European Union, and one of the most relevant globally.Today, this paradise is being threatened by different human pressures, such as boat collisions, plastic consumption and climate change. This struggle aggravates their mortality each year and makes us face ourselves as the ones responsible for their survival, forcing us to rethink how much we value these animals currently.How much is a whale worth? Can you put a price on the life of such a majestic animal? How can we estimate that value? How has the value that human beings give to whales changed throughout history? What are whales used and needed for?To answer all these questions, Natacha Aguilar, an eminent Canarian scientist and whale expert, backed up by a group of scientists and non-profit organizations, will guide us in a spectacular journey through time and space to discover the never-told stories of the lives of these animals.
From a ‘worm’ that shoots deadly slime from its head, to a blind marsupial mole that ‘swims’ underground, let’s take a look at three leading candidates (plus 13 special mentions).
Media reports created a false impression of a major breakthrough linking animals to Covid’s origins. The post The Rise and Fall of the Raccoon Dog Theory of Covid-19 appeared first on The Intercept.
A dearth of research on medical conditions affecting women has led a UCLA researcher to look for insights from the female animal kingdom.
Bats worldwide are primary vectors for virus transmission from animals to humans
Feral cats double the size of domestic tabbies. Cane toads with longer legs. And dingoes with flexible joints. ‘Selection pressure’ is at work on introduced animals.
Scientists looking outside typical lab conditions find some surprises when examining the link between eating less and living longer
How do giant filter-feeding whales find their tiny prey? The answer could be key to saving endangered species
Shall I order the chicken, or the salmon? What does the science say about reducing pressure on the environment? When you take a big-picture view, the results can be surprising.
Rewilding is risky but we can learn from past attempts to use it as an effective tool for conservation
From sports to pop culture, there are few themes more appealing than a good comeback. They happen in nature, too. Even with the Earth losing species at a historic rate, some animals have defied the trend toward extinction and started refilling their old ecological niches. [Photo: NPS/Jim Peaco] I’m a philosopher based in Montana and specialize in environmental ethics. For my new book, Tenacious Beasts: Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think About Animals, I spent three years looking at wildlife comebacks across North America and Europe and considering the lessons they offer. In every case, whether the returnee is a bison, humpback whale, beaver, salmon, sea otter, or wolf, the recovery has created an opportunity for humans to profoundly rethink how we live with these animals. One place to see the rethink in action is Colorado, where voters approved a ballot measure in 2020 mandating the reintroduction of gray wolves west of the Continental Divide. Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife Agency has released a draft plan that calls for moving 30 to 50 gray wolves from other Rocky Mountain states into northwest Colorado over five years, starting in 2024. In 2022, state officials helped ranchers install an electric fence to help protect their herd from wolves near Walden, Colorado. [Photo: RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images] Aldo Leopold, the famed conservationist and professor of game management at the University of Wisconsin, believed that moral beliefs evolve over time to become more inclusive of the natural world. And what’s happening in Colorado suggests Leopold was right. Human attitudes toward wolves have clearly evolved since the mid-1940s, when bounties, mass poisoning, and trapping eradicated wolves from the state. Recovering animals encounter a world that is markedly different from the one in which they declined, especially in terms of how people think about wildlife. Here are several reasons I see why societal attitudes toward wolves have changed. The importance of keystone species The idea that certain influential species, which ecologists call keystone species, can significantly alter the ecosystems around them first appeared in scientific literature in 1974. Bison, sea otters, beavers, elephants, and wolves all exert this power. One way in which wolves wield influence is by preying on coyotes, which produces ripple effects across the system. Fewer coyotes means more rodents, which in turn means better hunting success for birds of prey. Wolves also cause nervous behaviors among their prey. Some scientists believe that newly returned predators create a “landscape of fear” among prey species—a term that isn’t positive or negative, just descriptive. This idea has shifted thinking about predators. For example, elk avoid some areas when wolves are around, resulting in ecological changes that cascade down from the top. Vegetation can recover, which in turn may benefit other species. Insights into pack dynamics Animal behavioral science research has provided pointers for better wolf management. Studies show that wolf packs are less likely to prey on livestock if their social structure remains intact. This means that ranchers and wildlife managers should take care not to remove the pack’s breeding pair when problems occur. Doing so can fragment the pack and send dispersing wolves into new territories. Wildlife agencies also have access to years of data from close observation of wolf behavior in places like Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced starting in 1995. This research offers insights into the wolf’s intelligence and social complexity. All of this information helps to show how people can live successfully alongside them. Most wolf research happens at the population level. But new research studying wolves at the pack level found that when human activities like hunting + car accidents kill wolves, human behavior affects how wolf families stay together and reproduce.https://t.co/vsydcHblaW— Wolf Conservation Center (@nywolforg) February 18, 2023 Predators provide economic value Research has also demonstrated that wolves provide economic benefits to states and communities. Wisconsin researchers discovered that changes in deer behavior due to the presence of wolves have saved millions of dollars in avoided deer collisions with cars. These savings far exceed what it costs the state to manage wolves. Wolf recovery has been shown to be a net economic benefit in areas of the U.S. West where they have returned. The dollars they attract from wolf-watchers, photographers, and foreign visitors have provided a valuable new income stream in many communities. Predators do kill livestock, but improved tracking has helped to put these losses in perspective. Montana Board of Livestock numbers show that wolves, grizzly bears, and mountain lions caused the loss of 131 cattle and 137 sheep in the state in 2022. This is from a total of 2,200,000 cattle and 190,000 sheep. Of the 131 cattle, 36 were confirmed to be taken by wolves—0.0016% of the statewide herd. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, dogs, foxes, and coyotes in Montana all killed more sheep and lambs than wolves did in 2020. Even eagles were three times more deadly to sheep and lambs than wolves were. Actual costs to ranchers are certainly higher than these numbers suggest. The presence of wolves causes livestock to lose weight because the animals feed more nervously when wolves are around. Ranchers also lose sleep as they worry about wolves attacking their livestock and guard dogs. And clearly, low statewide kills are small comfort to a rancher who loses a dozen or more animals in one year. Margins are always tight in the livestock business. What’s more, predators’ economic impacts don’t end with ranching. In Colorado, for example, elk numbers are likely to decline after wolves are reintroduced. This may affect state wildlife agency budgets that rely on license fees from elk hunters. It may also affect hunting outfitters’ incomes. In my view, voters who supported bringing wolves back to Colorado should remain deeply aware of the full distribution of costs and support proactive compensation schemes for losses. They should be mindful that support for wolf reintroduction varies drastically between urban and rural communities and should insist that effective mechanisms are in place ahead of time to ensure fair sharing of the economic burdens that wolves generate. A new ethical playing field Despite these complexities, the idea of the “big bad wolf” clearly no longer dominates Americans’ thinking. And the wolf is not alone. Social acceptance of many other wildlife species is also increasing. For example, a 2023 study found that between 80% and 90% of Montanans believed grizzly bears—which are recovering and expanding their presence there—have a right to exist. Aldo Leopold famously claimed to have experienced an epiphany when he shot a wolf in New Mexico in the 1920s and saw “a fierce green fire” dying in her eyes. In reality, his attitude took several more decades to change. Humans may have an ingrained evolutionary disposition to fear carnivorous predators like wolves, but the change ended up being real for Leopold, and it lasted. Leopold, who died in 1948, did not live to see many wildlife species recover, but I believe he would have regarded what’s happening now as an opportunity for Americans’ moral growth. Because Leopold knew that ethics, like animals, are always evolving. Christopher J. Preston is professor of philosophy at the University of Montana. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
“How much would you pay to see a woolly mammoth?” asked a recent headline in the MIT Technology Review. Colossal Biosciences, which calls itself the world’s first de-extinction company, intends to make that more than a hypothetical. At its founding last year, Colossal generated a thunderclap of publicity for its announced goal of creating mammoths in its labs and releasing them in a park in Siberia. Media coverage offered an inspiring image of the tusked giants, who weighed up to ten tons, once again trampling across the snowy earth. But there was a problem—and no, not just the technical hurdle of restoring extinct species via biotechnology. The region of Siberia Colossal had in mind, Sakha, has a thriving underground trade in mammoth tusks. Specimens preserved in ice and riverbeds can be passed off as elephant ivory: one find can generate enough income for a hunter to feed his family for a year. So George Church, a Harvard geneticist and co-founder of Colossal, told CNN that in order to avoid its creations being poached, Colossal was considering bringing them back without tusks. Mammoths without their iconic body part symbolize a crucial fact about de-extinction: Any scientific breakthrough like this will be subject to political and economic considerations as well. Indeed, Colossal’s other co-founder, entrepreneur Ben Lamm, now says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused it to pause its Siberian plan, and begin investigating locations in Alaska instead.Wherever newly revived animals might end up—and the woolly mammoth isn’t the only animal on Colossal’s agenda—it’s increasingly apparent that de-extinction projects require a legal framework. Currently it’s unclear whether the patchwork of laws in various countries on genome editing, animal use, and other topics amount to much regulation of de-extinction at all. But whether to bring back extinct species should ultimately be up to governments, not private firms such as Colossal.Interest in Colossal and de-extinction more broadly reflect our increasing ability to re-engineer other species. In 2000 the bucardo, a wild goat native to France and Spain, went extinct. Three years later a team that included scientists from Advanced Cell Technology, a U.S. firm, used cells taken from the last living bucardo to create embryos that were inserted in surrogate goat and goat-bucardo mothers. Of the seven pregnancies that ensued, one resulted in a live birth. The animal lived for several minutes, during which de-extinction was, briefly, a reality.Mammoths are estimated to have eaten 400 pounds of grass and plants a day. Creating a clone that is genetically identical to a donor animal, as happened with the bucardo, requires a living cell from the donor. That’s not possible with mammoths, so Colossal says it will use gene-editing tools to make the genome of Asian elephants, the mammoth’s closest living relative, more mammoth-like.Gene editing technology currently allows researchers to make thousands of genetic changes simultaneously, whereas 1.5 million genetic differences separate elephant from mammoths. Some critics say that because of this, Colossal, rather than bringing back the mammoth, is really working toward the birth of a mammoth-like elephant. Colossal would seem to agree. Its web site says the company’s long-term goal is “a cold-resistant elephant with all of the core biological traits of the Woolly Mammoth. It will walk like a Woolly Mammoth, look like one, sound like one.”This plan raises many concerns. Mammoths are estimated to have eaten 400 pounds of grass and plants a day. Depending on how many were introduced, their ecological impact could be significant. De-extinction proposals therefore need to take into account the interests of people and animals living near introduction sites. Giving birth to a mammoth would also likely require a surrogate mother elephant, all species of which are endangered, calling into question their use. Finally, scientists suggest that mammoths may have gone extinct because of their inability to adapt to the warmer climate that followed an ice age. Before creating animals in their image, we will want evidence that they can survive our own period of global warming.There are currently no laws designed to ensure that de-extinction is carried out in an environmentally responsible way. In some instances, endangered species regulations might apply. Species have been known to remain listed under the Endangered Species Act for decades after disappearing (often because scientists were hoping for a sighting that never came). A restoration project involving an extinct animal still listed as endangered might require federal approval. But the applicability of existing law to these cases is unclear. And since mammoths and many other species went extinct before 1967, when the list was introduced, they have never been listed.Revising the Endangered Species Act to explicitly apply to de-extinct animals would be a welcome step. An example of what that could mean in practice is provided by the black-footed ferret project, which also involved advanced bioscience. In 2020 scientists at Revive and Restore, a biotechnology firm, cloned a ferret that died in the 1980s. Their goal was to expand the limited genetic diversity of existing populations. Before the company could go ahead, it had to obtain an Endangered Species Recovery Permit. Requiring an equivalent permit for de-extinction would narrow the legal gap between creating an endangered animal and an extinct one.American legislation, however, is unlikely to be enough. In addition to Russia, Colossal also has its eye on Australia, where it says it wants to re-introduce the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, which went extinct in 1936. Any country where de-extinction occurs will need to regulate it. De-extinction ideally would also be subject to treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (which the U.S., alone among countries, has not ratified) or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (to which the U.S. is a party). Amending these or other international instruments is necessary given not only the global reach of de-extinction firms, but the possibility of de-extinct animals crossing national borders.Existing laws and treaties cannot address all of the issues de-extinction raises. “Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Mammoths?” was the title of a 2018 academic article that noted that mammoths are social creatures whose welfare has received scant attention in the de-extinction debate. Creating one solitary mammoth to be confined in a zoo, for example, would be especially cruel. We should also hope that future de-extinctions avoid the invasive procedures used in the bucardo project, which saw scientists insert embryos in over 50 potential mothers in order to create those seven pregnancies. (Colossal, to its credit, says it hopes to eventually use artificial wombs. But not only are these still at the drawing board, they raise questions about how calf-mother bonding, which infant mammals depend on to develop, would occur.)And what is a genetically engineered species, anyway? How should we classify animals whose genes are edited to make them resemble a long-vanished species? Those who say the genes of an elephant, however modified, cannot result in a mammoth are using a definition of species that requires strict genetic similarity, which some biologists and philosophers reject. Elephants and mammoths share over 99 percent of their DNA, and the genetic profile of any species can change over time, through adaptation and genetic drift. If so, then Colossal’s creations could still be mammoths, their genetic distinctiveness notwithstanding. This question, too, has profound legal ramifications. De-extinction as Colossal envisions it is perhaps best understood as attempting to create animals that are visually and functionally similar to extinct models, whether or not they are the same species. But because genetic editing could be said to result in new species, de-extinction firms may someday argue that lab-grown animals are their creations, which they should be able to patent. Co-founder Lamm says that Colossal is only patenting spin-off technologies that can be applied to human healthcare. “Any technologies we develop which have an application to conservation will be given to the world for free,” he told me by email. But Colossal is not the only firm that has expressed an interest in de-extinction. Patenting de-extinct animals could not only make environmental regulations harder to enforce, it is likely to make the well-being of the animals even more of an afterthought. Making it illegal to patent a de-extinct species, while it would not address every ethical concern, would protect the animals’ interest in not becoming intellectual property.Regulating de-extinction is better than banning it: biotechnology is evolving, and the case for de-extinction could change with it. But as things stand now, the case for de-extinction is weak. While bringing back a species that recently disappeared has some appeal given how many species are being destroyed, the reality is that extinction is often due to human encroachment on animals’ habitats. Reversing that trend enough for a restored species to flourish would require taking on entrenched economic and political interests. If that were easy to do, there would be no extinction crisis to begin with.Colossal says that mammoths in Sakh, should they ever arrive, would slow the melting of local permafrost in various ways, such as by trampling the snow cover that locks in heat from the summer sun. If true, that would also slow the release of greenhouse gases from the melting ground. But critics dispute the science on which this theory rests. Even if it is sound, given the time and expense that would be required to introduce enough mammoths to make a difference, mammoth de-extinction is likely to be an inefficient response to climate change. And there are probably more effective uses for conservation resources. De-extinction advocates reply that environmental economics is not zero sum, and that companies like Colossal will generate new funding for conservation efforts. But this assumes that de-extinction will be an effective form of conservation. And it ignores the fact that some of Colossal’s funding has already come from the government, which obliges us to think hard about where it otherwise could have gone.All of this raises the worry that de-extinction may turn out to be another instance of the “environmentalism of the rich.”The company’s investors include the Central Intelligence Agency, through its non-profit venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel. (The agency’s rationale—that it is less interested in de-extinction than the bioengineer possibilities it may unlock—is, admittedly, not very reassuring.) The Fish and Wildlife service, meanwhile, is estimated to require more than double its current Congressional funding to protect species under the Endangered Species Act. Against that backdrop, it’s disappointing to see a de-extinction firm receive public funding of any kind.All of this raises the worry that de-extinction may turn out to be another instance of the “environmentalism of the rich.” In his 2018 book of that name, political scientist Peter Dauvergne noted the depressing frequency with which environmental rhetoric is used to justify activities that have negligible environmental value, and only benefit the wealthy. Prior to starting Colossal, George Church received $100,000 in funding from Peter Thiel, the billionaire supporter of libertarian and Republican causes, and Colossal’s current investors include the Winklevoss twins, best known for their Facebook litigation and Bitcoin investment, among other Silicon Valley names. Regulating de-extinction will help ensure that whatever conservation potential it may have is not undermined by the desire of rich investors to cash in on our fascination with charismatic megafauna. Maybe someday mammoths should once again rule the earth. Mammon, though, is a different story.
Past Presentation | The story of a multi-generational cattle farm in Talbott, Tennessee, turned sanctuary. The director notes that, through photography, “I could bring my love of animals to new levels and reach wider audiences. With this goal in mind, I started The Sentient Project. By capturing animals in a way many people may not necessarily see them, I hope they will reconsider some of the choices they make. Our daily decisions have massive effects on animals whether immediately recognized or not.”
Researchers discover elephant extinction could have major impact on atmospheric carbon levels. In findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Saint...
Modelled on the Climate Council, the body says it will be a ‘strong and trusted voice’ backed by science including First People’s knowledgeGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastLate in 2020 a group of scientists running a research hub dedicated to Australia’s threatened species were told their government funding would be discontinued.Australia had experienced unprecedented bushfires that pushed yet more plants and animals on to the national threatened list and the country’s wildlife was found to be in unsustainable decline.Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup Continue reading...
Now Playing | In the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes, more than 3 800 meters above sea level, live alpaca and vicunia breeders. Quechua and Aymara families protect their animals live off of the sale of the animals’ fiber. Gold mining is another activity that predates the Conquest and is widespread among families living in the border area between Peru and Bolivia. The difficult compatibility on the same territory of these two production activities increases the need for environmental protection and workers' rights. It has become indispensable to support producers so that this activity does not disappear with the migration of native peoples, abandoning traditions and animals.
Culling water buffalo is expensive. What if land managers could earn carbon credits for controlling the numbers of these methane-belching animals?
Every few months in recent years, Western news readers have been treated to a macabre tale: companies in China building massive multi-storey pig factory farms to feed the country’s appetite for pork. The agro-industrial phantasmagoria grows in scale with every iteration. Last week, the New York Times reported the construction of a 26-floor mega-farm in Hubei province which, once joined by a twin facility, will be able to raise and slaughter over a million pigs each year—“a Foxconn factory for pigs,” the Times called it, “with the precision required of an iPhone production line.”Yet the carceral brutalism displayed in the Times’ exclusive photos and footage of the new pork high-rise distracts from an uncomfortable truth: This Chinese factory farming dystopia merely reflects our own. It is a distinction of form, not type, with far more similarities than differences. If the point of these reports is to alert readers to the environmental, political, and ethical disaster wrought by factory farming, then we should focus just as much on factory farming’s birthplace, the United States.Pork has long been a favorite meat in China, but did not become a daily staple until the country’s push for agricultural modernization starting in the 1970s and accelerating in the new millennium, accompanied by the rise of an increasingly affluent urban consumer class. Today, China is the world’s biggest producer, importer, and consumer of pork, both total and per capita, with the average Chinese consumer eating close to 70 pounds each every year to Americans’ 50. But pork is more than just a staple in China; it is a metonym for Chinese agricultural modernization and food policy over the past few decades.To ensure a plentiful supply of pork for a growing population and in the face of relatively scant arable land, the Chinese public and private sector have worked cheek by jowl for decades to replace the country’s traditional and small-scale pork production with the American-style concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO, or factory farm) model. This meant embracing what the environmental studies researcher Mindi Schneider terms an “industrial meat regime” as a mode of organizing Chinese agro-industrial development, meaning ever-larger farms relying on a standardized labor force and standardized, mass-produced imports like soy. To feed an exponentially expanding number of pigs, China converted agricultural land to monocrop soy production and the country also quickly became one of the world’s biggest importers of soy.Keeping pork available and cheap is so central to Chinese government policy that the country maintains a strategic pork reserve to bolster the market in case of shortages caused by disruptions like Covid-19. The Chinese government has also sought to help its domestic pork industry modernize by underwriting ostensibly private investment in best-in-business companies like the American pork giant Smithfield, which was taken over by a Chinese holding company in 2013 for $4.7 billion, in what was then the largest takeover of an American company by a Chinese one in history.This push for ubiquitous pork has come with a price, including the disruption of smallholder farming, widespread environmental degradation, and ever-more-frequent outbreaks of disease. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus—which spread to the U.S. in 2013, causing millions of pig deaths—as well as scores of variants on influenza are endemic, regularly killing millions of animals and in isolated cases jumping to humans. And in 2019 China suffered a pig industry disaster when African Swine Fever tore through its farms, killing anywhere between 20 percent and 40 percent of the country’s pigs.What the Chinese are doing is emulating and, in a sense, improving on a quintessentially American way of producing meat.Hog towers like the one in Hubei are an attempt to resolve these intersecting problems of land and water constraints, the need to maintain a secure domestic pork supply and minimize reliance on fragile international value chains, and the desire to limit the spread of disease. They’re designed to be true factories for meat: pigs across different stages of their lives from birth through death housed in separate units, fed specialized diets through automated feeders, and monitored 24 hours a day, their manure tracked and repurposed into electricity-generating methane.In a way, it’s a marvel of a particular type of ecomodernism: minimizing the impact while maximizing the gain of industrial animal agriculture by maximizing the industrialization and minimizing the agriculture. This may help explain why the farm’s owners welcome the foreign press and boast of their technological and architectural innovations.But if you can look past the shock value in the Times’ coverage, it’s clear that what the Chinese are doing is emulating and, in a sense, improving on a quintessentially American way of producing meat. Indeed, the United States was once just as proud of its own multi-story, industrialized, suburban animal slaughter facilities.When Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893, visitors flocked by the thousands to see the novel industrial slaughterhouses on the city’s South Side, where the meat barons had devised the bloody “disassembly lines” where low-skilled laborers could kill and chop up hundreds of animals every day to create standardized cuts of meat for a growing urban customer base. (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle would eventually expose the distasteful reality behind these guided and sanitized tours.)The very notion of industrialized animal slaughter and farming is a thoroughly American construct. Just as has happened in China over the past few decades, in the U.S. the government has been responsible for pushing large-scale, industrial agriculture, and facilitating business for big farmers. It was the United States that pioneered not just industrial slaughter but also industrial farming, devising ways to maximize the profitability and efficiency of meat production, and allowing Americans to gorge on over 220 pounds of cheap meat each every year. Modern factory farms in the United States are every bit as technologically advanced, if not more so, than Chinese ones, with animals’ genetics rewritten, diets recalibrated, and lives entirely synced to the beat of the market. The difference is that American meat factories, unlike Chinese ones, spread their activities among numerous single-story buildings. And they no longer welcome journalists and photographers—in fact, they prosecute those who expose their practices.Today, about 98 percent of all animals raised for food in the United States come from factory farms. Entire states like Iowa have had their economies and geographies entirely reshaped to serve Big Pork, crushing small farms in the process. This trend, as the anthropologist Alex Blanchette detailed in his 2020 book Porkopolis, has reshaped rural America, creating de facto factory towns built around industrial farming.This comes with extensive externalities. Mass-scale hog production contributes to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, including from the massive manure lagoons that store animals’ excrement. These pools also have a tendency to overflow, poisoning ground water and killing off fish. Nor has the United States avoided animal disease, with outbreaks of PEDv and swine flu decimating pig populations. Meanwhile, the new meat barons run roughshod over American regulations and democracy, pushing for ag-gag laws that stifle whistleblowing, challenging public demands for improved animal welfare in court, stymying local democratic control over zoning, pushing for biogas projects to develop income streams for their methane-generating manure lagoons, strongarming the government into keeping slaughterhouses open during COVID-19 and then denying workers and their families benefits, and relying on legal exemptions to everything from child labor to bestiality laws to maximize their profits. The United States is, as a Food and Water Watch report bluntly puts it, a “Factory Farm Nation.”Much like the periodic Western critiques of China’s Yulin dog meat festival, outrage over the high-rise pig farms blends legitimate criticism with orientalist deflection. Any American reporting on China’s meat industry at this point ought to come with a caveat: while the rise of factory farming in China is indeed nightmarish, this should be an indictment not of China but of the noxious industrial-political model of animal production pioneered by the United States and now spreading globally. It is the what, not the where, that’s the problem. China’s factory farms should be seen by Western readers for what they are: a mirror to the horror of factory farming at home.
Night falls in the Mexican jungle of Yucatán, where veterinarian Omar García extracts blood and fluids from a bat that will be analyzed to monitor zoonoses, diseases transmitted from animals to humans. The last word has not yet been said about the origin of covid-19, but this Franco-Mexican project aims to detect viruses that can […] The post In Mayan jungle, scientists track viruses that could unleash new pandemics appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.
When multiple news outlets reported last week that both the Department of Energy and the FBI now believe the Covid-19 pandemic originated in an accidental leak from a lab, Republicans, along with many others on the internet, quickly declared victory for the “lab leak” hypothesis, reiterating their criticism of viral research, which they see as reckless and dangerous. In the past few months, conservative politicians have expressed interest in curtailing such research even in the United States—especially so-called “gain of function” research, a field that they have condemned for potentially leading to more transmissible or virulent pathogens among people.Yet while these two agencies’ conclusions were based on intelligence that has not been made publicly available, a close reading of initial reporting shows almost the exact opposite of what lab leak theory proponents and conservative lawmakers have been saying: Contrary to the idea that Covid was the result of either malicious or irresponsible lab tinkering, this virus was originally found in nature before escaping from a lab, if the reports are true. That means research on natural viruses—how they evolve and, in some cases, become more lethal—may be more vital than ever.As reported by The Wall Street Journal last week, the Department of Energy has assessed, with low confidence, that Covid was spread from a lab “mishap,” ruling out an engineered virus that was intentionally released. The FBI came to the same conclusion with moderate confidence.Without experts outside of the government being allowed to examine the report, it’s difficult for the public to know how reliable or accurate these conclusions are. Yet these findings are consistent with available evidence showing that SARS-CoV-2 is likely of natural origin, not created in a petri dish. It either traveled through animals or, as this intelligence report claims, through researchers who collected a sample from nature. But in both scenarios, it spilled over from wildlife at some point.The only question is where that spillover happened. And although we may never get a complete answer on that, the ultimate lesson remains the same, researchers say: No matter what happened in the initial spillover, we know that we need to improve monitoring of animals and people coming into increased contact with each other in a changing world. We need to reexamine patterns of land use and deforestation. And rather than curtailing funding for viral research, we need to bolster it, making it safer and more clearly regulated, before the next crisis hits. It’s difficult to unpack exactly what the intelligence reports say, outside experts told me. “It’s very difficult to comment on it, because we don’t actually know what evidence was used to make that assessment,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, said. Four U.S. agencies and the National Intelligence Council have concluded the pandemic most likely stemmed from a natural outbreak, while others remain undecided. The two agencies saying a lab leak is possible both seem to agree that this wasn’t an engineered virus or a bioweapon but a laboratory accident that presumably happened while handling a virus sample.“Virologists cannot create or design viruses out of thin air.”That tracks with the scientific consensus that SARS-CoV-2 is a poor candidate for bioengineering. First of all, there’s no known backbone—the molecular structure for any engineered virus—upon which SARS-CoV-2 was built. The backbone is a crucial part of bioengineering, since “virologists cannot create or design viruses out of thin air,” Robert Garry, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane Medical School, told me in an email. “There would need to be at least something or somethings close in nature.”The closest other known virus at the Wuhan Institute of Virology is called RaTG13, which is 96.2 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2. That may sound very similar, but 96.2 percent actually means RaTG13 has more than 1,100 different mutations spread throughout the genome, which would present an insurmountable barrier for any scientist trying to build one from another. “There is no way possible that RaTG13 could have become SARS-CoV-2,” Rasmussen said.Second, all the features found in SARS-CoV-2, all the properties that make it spread efficiently in humans, are already found in nature. So the entire discussion about research that may result in a virus with more dangerous properties is likely a red herring when it comes to SARS-CoV-2.An engineered virus seems particularly unlikely in this case because of where the leak reportedly happened: the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As far as experts can tell, there is little research and no gain of function work done on coronaviruses at the Wuhan CDC; they primarily collect and analyze samples. If a lab sample were collected from nature or from a patient and then accidentally released, this theory means the virus was indeed already in nature.The current body of scientific evidence, the mysterious intelligence report aside, says this pandemic emerged through (at least) two separate zoonotic spillover events at the Huanan seafood market, in association with the live animal trade.Lineage B of this virus, the one that is more prevalent across the globe, seemed to be a more evolved version than lineage A, which looks more like a bat virus. Yet lineage B actually appeared sooner in reported human cases around the market than lineage A did—pointing to two different introductions, rather than evolution from one lineage to another. This leads scientists to believe there were at least two different sources spilling the virus over within weeks of each other. Two separate lab accidents, with two different strains of the virus, in a short period of time seem less likely than multiple animals or people carrying the virus with them to the market, scientists say.Spillover, meaning the jump of an animal pathogen into humans, happens all the time—one study estimates that 400,000 people are infected by SARS-like coronaviruses each year in South and Southeast Asia—but often we get lucky and the viruses fizzle out or only cause mild illness. Plenty of studies from before this pandemic raised alarms about the potential for coronavirus spillover from nature. And Wuhan was on the list of potential places where that might happen. Scientists and the Wuhan CDC flagged the Huanan market as having pandemic spillover potential in 2014, and there were wildlife farms located south of Wuhan with animals known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-1.Lab leak proponents sometimes point to the lack of a known ancestor in nature. If SARS-CoV-2 spilled over at the market or among animals hunted or raised nearby, why haven’t we found the source yet, they reason.“We’re busy talking about a hypothetical cover-up and ignoring a cover-up that we know happened.”It’s true that, after SARS-CoV-1, officials searched for and found the virus circulating in animals within months. But after SARS-CoV-2, they didn’t seem to look—or if they did, they’ve hidden the evidence. Chinese officials shut down the Huanan market, denying that susceptible animals were traded there—despite evidence to the contrary. They also closed farms with susceptible animals in the surrounding area. And they haven’t released details on samples or animals sold in other Wuhan markets.“This is exactly what the Chinese government pledged to prevent from happening again, after SARS-1,” Rasmussen said, referring to the outbreak from 2002 to 2004. “It is striking to me that we’re busy talking about a hypothetical [lab] cover-up and ignoring a cover-up that we know happened—or, at least, we know for a fact that we have not been able to get access to those samples. And I should add, we haven’t been able to get access to the raw data from the environmental sequencing samples, either.”Finding similar viruses in nature is like searching for a needle in a haystack: difficult, but it can be done. When officials drop a match on the whole barn, though—and then refuse to let investigators examine the wreckage—it gets a lot harder.“The reason we haven’t found the intermediate species is not because we’ve been looking and we haven’t found one, it’s because we haven’t been able to look,” Rasmussen said. “You can’t find something if you’re not looking for it.”The scientists I’ve spoken to about the origins of the pandemic wouldn’t rule out a lab leak in the presence of strong evidence. Rasmussen said she would need to see proof that there was a progenitor virus—a virus very closely related to SARS-CoV-2—being studied in these labs. But as it stands now, the strongest available evidence points to zoonotic spillover. “There’s been substantial analysis that underscores zoonotic spillover as the most likely source for SARS-CoV-2 introduction,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Arizona and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told me in an email. The fact that the intelligence report hasn’t been released, the lack of consensus among different agencies about how to interpret intelligence, and the “low confidence” of the Energy Department assessment all raise questions. It means that “for this to be considered the main source of Covid, there needs to be far more evidence that is publicly reported and has enough scientific support,” she said.That hasn’t stopped conservative lawmakers from introducing bans on the research that, paradoxically, can help us better understand pandemics—even though the very intelligence reports they acclaim contradict the theory that SARS-CoV-2 was made worse by experiments, instead pointing toward a natural virus that, once collected, escaped.“Making policies, or even really contemplating policies, that are more or less based on vibes is a terrible way to move forward.”“Making policies, or even really contemplating policies, that are more or less based on vibes is a terrible way to move forward,” Rasmussen said. Research on pathogens doesn’t just help us understand what they can do; it also helps us develop treatments and vaccines, she pointed out. Restrictions on pandemic-potential pathogen research that move forward because of Covid politicization could have a “profound” effect on research into other pressing topics, such as influenza, as well as on science that has nothing to do with pandemic prevention, Rasmussen said.Part of the issue around the gain of function debate is that the phrase is hard to define. Anytime a scientist works with a virus and something changes, that’s technically a gain of function. But often researchers aren’t adding a new function on purpose—those changes happen as they’re studying other processes. And it certainly doesn’t mean the change presents a danger to people. Gain of function writ large is critical for understanding the threats posed by pathogens—disease transmission, future pandemic threats, medical preparedness, and more. “Outlawing so-called GoF research could be a disaster and make everyone on the planet less safe,” Garry said.When “gain of function” is invoked in political debates, it usually refers to a small subset of research on enhanced potential pandemic pathogens and dual-use research of concern—which means research that can be misused, intentionally or accidentally. For the small sliver of virological research that examines what changes could make viruses worse for humans, there need to be better definitions for what type of work qualifies and how it is assessed, Rasmussen said—improvements that virologists would welcome. “The terminology and the guidance need to be more specific so that people can understand how to comply with it properly.” Any restrictions would need to define carefully what type of research would be regulated or banned, and researchers would need to know when their work fits the bill. And it’s important to involve actual researchers in these conversations, the experts said.Fieldwork, where specimens are collected or researchers come into contact with animals that could harbor deadly viruses, could always be made safer—especially research in fields other than virology, where field-workers may not be familiar with the risks of working around animals harboring viruses. Accidental lab exposures can and do happen, but they’re usually caught quickly—and it’s fairly easy to prevent them from happening again by improving ventilation or preventing cross contamination. While laboratory incidents can occur, “there are existing biosafety and biosecurity measures in place,” and ongoing discussions around those should continue to occur, Popescu said. But the debates in this context are largely theoretical, she pointed out, because “infections as a result of a lab leak/accident have not occurred in a GoF study.”This entire debate obscures a simple fact: None of this actually matters when it comes to what we need to do next. Whether this was a lab accident with a virus collected from nature or a natural spillover—or, conceivably, both—we still need good oversight of lab safety and more, not less, work on worrying viruses. To defend against zoonotic disease in the future, we also need to reexamine the ways we use land, the way we farm and deforest, and the ways we monitor diseases among animals and the people who come in contact with them. We need to improve food security and make animal trade and hunting safer. And we need to understand the ways that our health is intricately linked to the health of the planet and everything that lives on it.“Here’s the quiet part we need to say out loud—this research and Covid origin investigations have become increasingly political and this creates bias in any conversation surrounding them—to a point where progress and partnership become nearly impossible,” Popescu said. “Understanding the origins of a pandemic is important and requires global collaboration, in which the U.S. should be a major partner,” she said. But at the same time, “we need to stop letting this debate distract us from real questions about how [the] U.S. response to Covid was so inadequate.” Virologists have warned for years that we were overdue for a coronavirus pandemic. The emergence of SARS-CoV-1 in 2003 and MERS in 2012, which were tragic in their own right, were warnings of a much bigger challenge to come. And we’re not out of the woods when it comes to coronaviruses, even after all of the devastation wrought by Covid. After all, there are several other types of coronaviruses that haven’t yet caused outbreaks in humans. They could mutate to become dangerous for us, and we would have no prior immunity against them.These discussions unveil a painful truth that no one, least of all anyone in power, wants to acknowledge. We weren’t brought to our knees because China unleashed a bioweapon, purposefully or accidentally; it’s because we repeatedly pushed nature toward the next pandemic and then threw away the playbook for containing it. The desperate scramble to point fingers will only put us in worse shape for the next one.