Zoonotic diseases

Zoonotic Disease Transmission in Canada and the Role of Animal Agriculture.

Unite human, animal and environmental health to prevent the next pandemic” – UN Report

“The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” – UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. July 6th, 2020.

This document seeks to examine public policy that enables and even exacerbates the manifestation and transmission of zoonotic diseases as well as provide alternatives to current public policy. It is a living document and will continue to evolve over time. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased scrutiny of the exploitation of animals and the transmission of viruses and other zoonotic diseases from animals to humans. It also raises concerns about the issue of antibiotic resistance largely caused by animal agriculture use.

Zoonotic diseases are defined as those that can spread from animals to humans. [1] Evidence indicates that the COVID-19 virus may have originated in bats and was likely transferred to another species in close proximity in a wildlife market in China before being transmitted to humans.[2] As a zoonotic virus, it joins a growing list of viruses and other zoonotic diseases originating from animal sources due to the conditions of their confinement which leads to ideal circumstances for transmission. 

The UN estimates that approximately seventy-five percent of new diseases in humans come from other animals.[3] A number of zoonotic diseases have arisen in the past forty years including HIV-AIDS, Avian Flu, SARS, H1N1, Ebola among others. Prominent sources of zoonotic diseases are wildlife markets, the trade in exotic species, bush meat, and animal agriculture.

The market where Covid-19 is believed to have originated offered confined live animals for consumer selection and killing on demand. These markets are found all over the world and are not confined to any particular region.  These markets tend to have animals of numerous species in cages stacked on top of one another.  This creates the opportunity for urine, feces, and blood matter to drop between animals exposing them to otherwise foreign pathogens.  Due to the conditions of confinement, animals tend to be highly stressed which leads to increased shedding and transmission of zoonotic viruses, parasites, bacteria and fungi and causes weakened immune systems.

Many of the conditions for the transmission of zoonotic diseases also exist within western animal agriculture systems where stressful, large-scale confinement, and stacking of animals during confinement and transport is not uncommon. [4] Furthermore, the common use of antibiotics to deter disease can lead to the proliferation of antibiotic resistance in humans.  

The Canadian Context:

In Canada, the conditions for the proliferation and transmission of zoonotic diseases exist due to our systems of industrialized animal agriculture characterized by dense crowding, antibiotic use, and highly stressful conditions. Crowding of genetically similar animals provides a landscape for viruses, parasites, bacteria and fungi to easily jump from animal to animal and between animals and humans.

Excessive antibiotic use creates opportunities for bacteria and fungi to become resistant and threatens both humans and animals in need of antibiotic treatment and is described as a serious threat to global public health. [5] An article in the American Journal of Public Health, December 2015, titled “Antibiotics Overuse in Animal Agriculture: A Call to Action for Health Care Providers” states:

“Of all antibiotics sold in the United States, approximately 80% are sold for use in animal agriculture; about 70% of these are “medically important” (i.e., from classes important to human medicine).  Antibiotics are administered to animals in feed to marginally improve growth rates and to prevent infections, a practice projected to increase dramatically worldwide over the next 15 years. There is growing evidence that antibiotic resistance in humans is promoted by the widespread use of nontherapeutic antibiotics in animals. Resistant bacteria are transmitted to humans through direct contact with animals, by exposure to animal manure, through consumption of undercooked meat, and through contact with uncooked meat or surfaces meat has touched.”

Canada’s system of production for animals on farms create prime conditions for the proliferation and spread of diseases.  In 2019, over 800 million animals were killed for food in the Canadian agriculture sector. Nearly 750 million of these animals were chickens. [6]

 “Broiler” chickens, killed for their meat, are generally raised in large industrial barns by the tens of thousands. They are genetically manipulated to grow quickly and are often given antibiotics to further this growth. Most egg-laying hens live in stressful, unsanitary, highly crowded cages with tens of thousands of other birds. [7]

Pigs are also primarily raised on farms where thousands live in highly controlled indoor confinement areas at each stage of their lives before slaughter. [8]

In Canada, three animal agriculture sectors (dairy, poultry, and eggs) are run under strict supply management systems that control production based on regulated quotas.  This means that the production of these animals and their products must be run in a planned manner that keeps a specific quantity being shipped.[9] Despite industry claims of improved animal welfare through supply management, the system is based on consumer demand and the drive for cheap meat and has little to do with animal welfare.

Due to COVID-19, 12% of the chicken flock was reduced due to a dip in demand because of restaurants being closed which resulted in approximately 90 million fewer birds in production. [10] Similarly, the dairy industry is dumping milk down the drain because they have an over-supply due to the pandemic related shutdown of many restaurants. [11]

In 2009, an epidemic of swine flu (H1N1) spread across Canada infecting 10% of the pig population. It infected approximately 55,000 Canadians between 2008 and 2014, killing approximately 500 people. [12]

In 2004, over 17 million birds were killed on farms in B.C. due to an outbreak of Avian flu which was transmitted to two workers on a chicken farm. [13] These are examples of the zoonotic diseases in Canada and demonstrate the potential for further outbreaks.


At the centre of the proliferation and transmission of zoonotic diseases is the consumption of animals and the industrialized animal agriculture system.

As a baseline, the Animal Protection Party of Canada recognizes the easiest and more widely accessible option to reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases is to promote and educate people about the benefits of reducing and eliminating animal products from consumption.

Although plants are not a source of zoonotic diseases, many plants are grown using animal manure which can contain antibiotics used on the animals. This is why a standard has been developed that excludes any animal inputs, it is called: Biocyclic Vegan Agriculture (BVA).  This is important because it breaks down the chain of dependence on animal agriculture by plant-based agriculture. [14]

The potential of BVA goes beyond the benefits of reduced disease transmission. It is representative of a food revolution that is necessary to address climate breakdown, food insecurity, biodiversity protection, reduction in water usage, and the promotion of good health.

Certified stock-free organic farming is another similar system of cultivation that excludes all artificial chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.) and any products of animal origin.  Some farms in Canada are practicing such farming. [15]

The APPC also recognizes that access to a primarily vegan food diet is dependent on geographical, cultural, and other socio-economic factors.  Similarly, people from socially and economically marginalized communities are more affected by health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why it is necessary for us to ensure there is an equitable and sensitive approach to addressing these public health issues.

Policy Changes

It is the responsibility of federal, provincial and local government to provide leadership and education to the public on the most healthful, ethical, and sustainable food systems based on the available evidence. Furthermore, it should empower people to be able to participate and achieve these goals in the interest of best outcomes for people, animals, and the environment.

Our current food system is failing to promote healthy people and society, the well-being of animals and biodiversity, and the integrity of our ecological systems. It is not enough that we simply improve animal welfare and the conditions animals are raised in on farms. A food revolution is necessary to address these issues and it starts with immediate policy and regulatory change at all levels of government.

We have already been working with animal rights political parties from around the world calling for a food revolution, and our policy recommendations follow in the spirit of that global action.

With many sectors of the animal agriculture industry currently in decline due to the widespread closure of restaurants which they supply, now is the time for the government to work with industries to begin to reduce animal agriculture in Canada and move to a greater reliance on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and non-animal protein foods instead of returning to pre-pandemic levels of animal production. This a rare opportunity for the Canadian food system to reflect the values set in Canada’s recently adopted new Food Guide.

The Animal Protection Party of Canada calls on the federal and provincial governments to take immediate action to reduce the likelihood of future zoonotic epidemics and pandemics, while promoting the general health of humans, animals, and the environment. 

APPC calls on municipal governments, agencies such as school boards, the military, prisons, the health care community, and private enterprise and investment to embrace the change and align their policies, regulations and laws to reflect the direction of federal and provincial initiatives.

The following regulatory and policy changes are proposed by the APPC:

  • Recognition by Health Canada of animal agriculture and the consumption of meat and dairy as a “health emergency.”
    • This should include specific public education on the connection between zoonotic diseases and animal agriculture.
    • An urgent campaign by Health Canada to promote the Canada Food Guide and the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
  • An urgent establishment of a “New Food Deal” by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada with animal producers across Canada to transition away from animal agriculture to plant-based agriculture to reduce the risk of the current health and economic crises we face. This policy is in solidarity with the call for a “Food Revolution” by world animal rights political parties. 
    • The “New Food Deal” would be an exchange of subsidies generally given to prop-up the animal-based agriculture sector during the economic downturn to instead be used for transitioning away from animal ag.
    • Transitioning would include phase-outs, buy-outs and step-down timelines and assistance for farms transitioning from animal focused agriculture to alternative approaches.
    • Money would be spent on infrastructure transition, education, retraining and research into development of plant-based sectors.
    • Ensure fair and equitable income supplementation to farmers and farm staff during the transition by developing a roadmap for change.
    • Establishment of federal subsidy programs that will support local, plant-based, food sovereignty initiatives.
    • Create a mandate to phase out the animal agriculture sector by 2040, with a middle-term goal of a 70% reduction in animal beings raised and killed, including wildlife, by 2030.
    • A commitment by all levels of government to making whole, plant-based foods more affordable and accessible to consumers.
  • It must be recognized that the source of the pandemic, and of zoonotic diseases in general, is the systemic consumption, exploitation, and mistreatment of animals and their habitat. Without this recognition, we run the risk of merely taking reactive measures to address the symptoms of the pandemic and not its source.  We therefore call on the government of Canada to take immediate action to identify, understand, and address the plight of animals in our country.
    • The establishment by the Prime Minister of Canada, of a Minister for the Animals in cabinet to hold an inquiry into the plight of animals in Canada, their treatment in the agriculture sector, and dedicated to improving their status and treatment in Canadian society.
  • Phasing out the import/export of exotic and domestic species for profit, research, captivity, or other exploitative purposes.
  • A commitment to protecting 50% of Canada’s natural spaces, waters, and shoreline from development, human interference, and destruction.

Animal Protection Party of Canada


[1] Centre for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/virus-transmission.htm

[2] WHO Origin of the Corona Virus

[3] UN Preventing the Next Pandemic

[4] World Animal Protection: Zoonotic Diseases, human health and farm animal welfare.

[5] Government of Canada: Antimicrobial resistance and animals https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/antibiotic-antimicrobial-resistance/animals/actions.html

[6] Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Animal Industry

[7] Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farm Animals – Broiler Chickens

[8] Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farm Animals – Sows

[9] CBC: How Canada’s Supply Management System Works

[10] National Post: Chicken Flock to Shrink

[11] CBC: Why Canada’s Dairy Farmers are dumping milk

[12] Infection Prevention and Control Canada: Pandemic H1N1

[13] Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:

[14] Biocyclic Vegan

[15] Stock-Free Farming
Safe food advocacy/stock-free

For Further Consideration:

Washington State University: Zoonoses Associated with Birds
Zoonotic diseases in birds

WHO: Avian and other zoonotic influenca

UN Food and Agriculture Organization: Avian Flu: Other animals.






Animal Consumption:















UN FAO – Livestock’s Long Shadow

Animal Legal Defence Fund – White Paper Covid 19


UN IPBES – Nature’s Unprecedented Decline