Animal-use industries are collapsing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of a sudden some of Canada’s longest standing and prolific animal exploitive industries are finding themselves vulnerable to the economic downturn brought on by the COVID health crisis. While events such as the Calgary Stampede may have been cancelled outright, the fall of other animal-use industries is more protracted.
Because many of these businesses are dependent on tourism during the summer months for their major income, some have already claimed they need public hand-outs to survive. Examples include: the Vancouver Aquarium is considering permanently shutting down their facility with 70,000 animals still in their care, the Calgary Zoo is also lacking funding and has asked for half a million dollars a month from the public to sustain their one thousand animals. Further, even the horse carriage businesses in Victoria are asking the public to bail them out. Somehow, despite decades of profiting from exploiting animals for entertainment, none of these industries have a contingency plan for the care of their animals after a month of their businesses being interrupted. Yet, they expect the public to invest in them as if they are providing an essential service. In a matter of a month, they have gone from business as usual to asking for public and government handouts to sustain themselves. It is a crisis of identity for many of them, with some trying to redefine themselves as “conservation,” as “sanctuary” or even “rescue” facilities to gain the public’s sympathy.
In addition to animals used for entertainment purposes, the meat and dairy sector have also been impacted. Dairy farmers across Canada are being forced to dump milk down the drain as they have a massive oversupply issue due to restaurants being closed and demand for dairy drying up. The meat industry is also warning of mass supply shortages due to the closing of slaughterhouses because of COVID outbreaks in these facilities across North America, including Canada’s largest outbreak, and decreased demand from restaurants. Because of this, chicken farmers in Canada have reported they will be reducing their flocks by 12%, or roughly 87 million chickens.
Many of these animal-use industries have been at the heart of animal advocacy campaigns for decades; yet, in the period of a month, COVID has seemingly been able to accomplish what animal advocates could not: undermining their economics.
With many of these businesses bringing in millions of dollars each month in the summer when tourist season is at its peak, losing this source of income is devastating. Much like the just-in-time method of production within the dairy and meat industries that require the system of breeding, transportation, and slaughter to operate like clockwork to maximize profit, for industries that exploit animals for entertainment cutting off the flow of funds in peak season means the system breaks down almost immediately.
What is interesting with the current situation is that their absence in our lives exposes their other great vulnerability, their lack of relevance to society. Not one of the organizations or industries listed earlier can justify its existence. They certainly are not essential businesses in any form and all of them share in the objectification and commodification of animals. It would be hypocritical of the federal and provincial governments to bail out the meat and dairy industries when the Canada Food Guide recommends a shift away from these products for the health of Canadians. Zoos, aquariums, rodeos, and horse carriages have also been widely condemned as cruel relics of the past with no educational or societal value other than tourism and employment.
As a society of compassionate and progressive individuals, we should be encouraged by the potential for these businesses to shut down, but the problem is that the animals these businesses exploit are the keys to their survival. Despite years of opposition to many of these businesses and industries, the public wants to protect the animals entrenched within these industries from the uncertainty ahead. This may cause people to be confused about what they are supporting. When an industry threatens the death of animals as the only possible outcome without funding, the public responds because they care about the individual animals, not the industry.
With the economic downturn being the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, it is unlikely that many of these crumbling monoliths to animal exploitation will persevere if the social distancing and self-isolation measures remain in place for any significant amount of time. What this means for the animals is unclear, but the transitioning of these animals out of these exploitative businesses and industries should be the focus of any funding or bailouts during and post-pandemic. If we support these industries and expect anything different from them, we will have squandered the greatest opportunity wrought from this crisis. We must demand a new way forward, a progressive future in which animals are not commodities to be exploited for any economic interest, but recognized as sentient individuals with a common interest in life and the preservation of the Earth.
We need our response to the pandemic to be an upheaval of our status-quo relationship with nature and there is no more urgent place for us to do that than with the liberation of our fellow animals.
Deputy Leader, Animal Protection Party of Canada
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