The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Coronaviruses, Food Safety and Animal Cruelty

DEAR READERS: As you may be aware, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is in the same category as the one responsible for the epidemic of SARS (Sudden Onset Respiratory Syndrome) in the early 2000s. The two viruses are also sadly linked to animal cruelty.

The SARS epidemic infected more than 8,000 people in 26 countries and killed at least 774, the vast majority in China and Hong Kong. When the virus was linked to civets, Chinese authorities ordered the deaths of some 10,000 civets by drowning and electrocution. (The precursor virus was found to be present in wild Rhinolophus bats.) Civets and other small mammals sold as delicacies in “wet markets” provided a reservoir and amplifier for the virus, and the opportunity for adaptation to humans -- a similar fashion to how the COVID-19 virus got its foothold.

There are degrees of inhumanity and cruel treatment of animals for which we unwittingly pay the price. In Ethiopia, civets are held in small cages and have their anal glands routinely scraped out to “harvest” musk for the perfume industry; in Indonesia, these animals are caged and force-fed coffee beans that are then collected in their feces and sold as gourmet “fermented” beans called kopi luwak. Such practices reflect the depravity that surfaces where the lure of money meets a lack of empathy. This is exemplified especially by China’s bear-bile farms, where bears, constantly confined in cramped cages, have abdominal cannulas collecting their bile for sale as medicine. (One of the alleged “cures” from traditional Chinese medicine that the government recommends for treating severe, critical cases of COVID-19 is an injection of Tan Re Qing, which contains bear bile, National Geographic reported.)

While nation after nation goes through the socioeconomic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic disease -- originating from animals alive and dead being sold in a market in China for human consumption -- I appeal to all consumers and governments to consider the impossibility of preventing such pandemics and other animal product-borne epidemics and regional outbreaks. It is impossible because of the enormous scale of animal production -- billions of poultry and pigs worldwide that are the primary source of various strains of influenza virus and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. This problem is so serious in poultry that their carcasses are washed in bleach; the U.K. refuses to accept America’s chlorine-treated chicken under current trade negotiations.

The U.S. government and meat scientists explored sterilizing such produce using radioactive isotopes, but this move was temporarily blocked by health and safety experts. Such radiation produces radiolytic-breakdown products, the safety of which to consumers has been questioned. Such concerns gained some affirmation with the death of cats in Australia after being fed imported canned cat food that was, under import regulations, subjected to irradiation. (For details, visit https://truthaboutpetfood.com/was-irradiated-pet-food-the-cause-of-cat-deaths-in-australia.)

Regardless, meat and poultry in the U.S. is being irradiated, and producers who use ionized radiation to kill pathogens in products now have expanded options, thanks to two rules published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (For more, visit foodsafetynews.com/2012/12/fda-expands-irradiation-uses-for-meat-and-poultry.)

COMPANION ANIMALS TEST NEGATIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS SO FAR

Veterinary diagnostics firm Idexx has tested more than 3,500 samples from dogs, cats and horses for infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, and none of the tests have been positive. The findings support experts’ assertions that pets are unlikely to catch or transmit the disease. However, the virus could become attached to animals’ fur, and the CDC says people should avoid kissing pets and should wash their hands after touching them.

A German shepherd dog in Hong Kong whose owner tested positive for COVID-19 was put in quarantine, along with a mixed-breed dog from the same household. While neither dog has clinical signs of the disease, the German shepherd’s test was positive, and the other dog’s was negative. The AVMA, CDC and World Organization for Animal Health say there is no evidence that companion animals can transmit the virus that causes the disease, and authorities say there is no justification for abandoning pets.

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)