Coronavirus and non-humans: How is the pandemic affecting animals used for human consumption?post by Daniela R. Waldhorn · 2020-04-07T08:40:01.305Z · score: 70 (33 votes) · EA · GW · 7 comments
Summary Introduction Animals used for human consumption: Welfare concerns Animals are getting culled Precarious conditions for animals who are transported alive Fishing and aquaculture have been significantly affected by the pandemic Production and consumption of animal-based products Meat and egg prices are going up... and down Consumption of some animal-based products is rising Consumption of other animal products is decreasing Still, the future of the animal protein market looks complex and changing Plant-based meat The United States and Europe China What can we do? Conclusion Credits Annex: Methodology None 7 comments
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is having several important consequences on the lives of non-human animals. In this report I overview its main direct effects on animals used for human consumption. Some main findings are:
- Welfare concerns: Transport restrictions have prevented animal feed from getting delivered to farms. As a consequence, young chickens have been killed in massive numbers, in horrific ways. Moreover, animals who are transported alive are being subjected to extraordinary precarious conditions.
- Fishing and aquaculture are the economic activities that have suffered the worst consequences of the pandemic.
- Production and consumption of animal-based products: The disease is also affecting international meat and egg prices due to disruptions in supply and demand. While consumption of some animal-based products is temporarily rising (e.g., chicken meat, eggs), consumption of other types of meat (e.g., sea animals) is decreasing. Still, the future of the animal protein market looks complex and changing.
- Plant-based meat: If the U.S. and Europe dip into a recession, the business of plant-based companies will probably be disrupted. In China, because of the coronavirus outbreak along with other health threats, consumers’ willingness to try new plant-based proteins is likely to increase.
Finally, some practical implications of the pandemic are presented. One is that consumers are likely to be more concerned about obtaining safer and healthier food. Another is that organizations running corporate outreach campaigns should probably consider some strategic changes, focusing less on restaurant and hotel chains and more on grocery chains.
It should be noted that the situation is evolving rapidly and other factors not considered here may come into play in upcoming weeks. For the same reason, please note that we have waived our normal review and quality check standards to publish this report as soon as possible.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has disrupted the daily life of many, caused widespread sickness and fatalities, and sent the global economy careening toward a recession. The pandemic is probably the greatest global crisis that our generation has faced. It is also having various important consequences on the lives of non-human animals.
Some of the impacts of the COVID-19 on animals are well known – like cats and dogs being abandoned because their care-takers are worried the animals would pass on COVID-19 (e.g., in China, in the UK). Similarly, stories of wild animals flourishing in quarantined cities abound on social media. Several of those stories are not only fake (e.g., swans and dolphins returning to the canals of Venice, Italy) but also distract from the non-idyllic reality that wild animals usually face – most of the time, caused by natural factors rather than by human intervention.
Here I overview some of the main direct effects of this crisis on animals used for human consumption, whether farmed or captured from the wild. I focus on this area because, as it is known, it includes the largest number of animals under human control. Therefore, of all animals under human control, animals used for human consumption are likely to be the most affected by the outbreak.
This report is organized as follows. First, I assess some welfare concerns for farmed animals directly caused by the pandemic. Second, I highlight how the coronavirus outbreak has significantly impacted fishing and aquaculture. Third, I tackle how the pandemic is affecting the production and consumption of animal-based products. Fourth, I discuss some provisional consequences of COVID-19 for the plant-based meat sector. Although this report’s main objective is presenting information about the current situation, I also suggest some practical implications of the pandemic in the fifth section. Finally, I offer some concluding remarks about the outlook for animals used for consumption. The methodology followed to develop this work can be found in the Annex.
Animals used for human consumption: Welfare concerns
Animals are getting culled
As happened in 2019 with pigs during the biggest outbreak of African Swine Flu, one of the most visible impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak is the culling of farmed animals. At least in China and India, hundreds of millions of chickens have been killed in horrific ways, like being buried alive (India), or abandoned to starve to death (China). In India, a farmer said that due to a decline in demand and a big drop in prices, chickens were causing him steep losses. In China, the shutdowns in several provinces have affected supply chains, with transport restrictions preventing animal feed from getting delivered to chicken farms. Farmers in Hubei province – where Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease outbreak and also China’s sixth largest poultry producing province, is located – described their situation as “very distressed”, and called for facilitating the delivery of tons of corn and soybean meal to feed farmed chickens.
According to an article from the Financial Times, by the first half of February, farmers in China had already slaughtered at least 100 million young chickens, which only represented 1% of China’s annual chicken production. Nevertheless, the number of culled chickens is now probably much higher, since the shutdown of the country has continued for several weeks.
If supply chains are disrupted in other countries, even temporarily, similar consequences can be expected. Similarly, it would not be surprising to learn that farmed animals other than chickens have suffered the same fate. Aquaculture, for example, has been severely affected by the pandemic (see below). Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that if aquaculture companies stopped operating, many farmed fishes might starve. No information was found in this regard. However, Javier Ojeda, acting general secretary of the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), highlighted that the sector works “with live fish which needs continuous feeding", urging the EU to adopt further measures that tackle the current situation of the aquaculture industry.
Precarious conditions for animals who are transported alive
Travel restrictions imposed in several European countries to control the spread of the coronavirus have caused long traffic queues at the borders, leading trucks with live animals to wait for several hours just to advance a few miles or, sometimes, just meters (see here, here). Likewise, these queues at the borders are making it impossible to attend to the welfare of animals caught up in them, according to a letter signed by several animal welfare organizations.
Given that Regulation (EU) 1/2005 prohibits transportation to be carried out in ways that are likely to cause undue suffering to the animals involved, these NGOs have petitioned the European Union to suspend the transportation of farmed animals to non-EU countries, as well as journeys that last over 8 hours. So far, the European Commission responded authorizing “more flexibility” for Member States to carry out official controls on animals (Regulation (EU) 2020/466). It remains to be seen whether, in practice, this temporary measure results in laxer or lower compliance of the existing animal welfare legislation.
Similarly, in Australia, the government has recently decided that the job of monitoring the welfare of farmed animals that are shipped alive counts as "non-essential international travel". Due to this decision, due to the coronavirus outbreak, there are now no independent observers supervising the compliance of animal welfare measures onto live export ships, although Australia is the world’s largest exporter of live sheep and the fourth-largest exporter of live cows for slaughter.
Fishing and aquaculture have been significantly affected by the pandemic
Fishing is one of the economic activities that has suffered the worst consequences of the pandemic. At least two factors have caused the virtual shutdown of the industry in several countries (e.g., Spain, France [see here and here], United Kingdom, Norway, and in the United States [see here, here, and here]): the health risks directly associated with coronavirus, and a sharp drop in demand.
The latter is a direct result of extensive home quarantines and restaurant closures. In several countries, like the U.S., sea animals like fish or crabs are not typically cooked at home but rather mainly consumed in restaurants and food service (see here, here). In Europe, although sea animals are being sold in supermarkets and fish retail markets for domestic consumption, demand is not high enough to keep the industry afloat. Given this sharp collapse of demand, in Northeastern cities of the U.S., for example, lockdowns have left sea animals unsold and boats tied up. Likewise, lobster manufacturers in Nova Scotia (Canada) and Maine (U.S.) have even considered temporarily suspending their fishing activity.
Internationally, decreased demand from Asia and Europe has not helped the U.S. fishing industry either. Similarly, after China closed its borders, sea animal demand collapsed, and as a consequence, prices in Southeast and Pacific Asia went down as well. In light of this situation, countries like Vietnam expect there to be a surplus of marine animals, because of the inability to export them to China.
This general drop in demand for sea animals is not only affecting the fishing industry, but also aquaculture. According to Rabobank, the shrimp farming industry will be one of the hardest hit sectors by coronavirus.
Geographically, the situation in Europe is described as “devastating”. In response, the European Commission announced economic aid of up to €120,000 for the fishing and aquaculture sector. In the U.S., the industry is urging the Senate to pass economic relief packages in view of many potential bankruptcies.
Production and consumption of animal-based products
Meat and egg prices are going up... and down
The pandemic's effect on the Chinese meat market has been exacerbated by an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) that has been ravaging Chinese pork producers since 2018. Since China’s first reported case of ASF in August 2018, the disease has spread all over the country and beyond its borders. ASF affects pigs and wild boars and has up to a 100% case fatality rate. By early November 2019, it was estimated that half the pigs in China – which in 2018 accounted for around 440 million individuals, some 50% of the world’s farmed pigs – had either died from ASF or been killed to stamp out the virus (see here, here, here). That is, around 25% of the world’s farmed pigs died last year because of ASF.
The disease is not only causing massive animal suffering, but it has also reshaped the international meat market. As a result of the ASF outbreak, pork prices started to spike (here, here, here), even beyond China. Among other effects, Chinese consumers switched to eating more beef and other animals’ meat. This rising demand for other types of meat was largely satisfied by new imports of cow and chicken meat, and when possible, pork as well (see here, here, here, here). However, with the coronavirus outbreak, beef demand in China dropped, and with it, prices went down as well (see here, here, here, here, here).
Similarly, chicken meat prices have fallen sharply in recent weeks in China. Likewise, a price drop of chicken meat has been observed in the past few weeks in other countries. In China, transportation restrictions have effectively paralysed the supply chain, forcing farmers to dump chicken meat. Analysts believe that China’s supply of chicken meat and egg products is likely to be negatively affected over the next 6 months due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, poultry prices in China seem to be going up now.
In the United States, beef prices jumped to record levels, as shoppers stockpiled meat in response to the coronavirus outbreak (see here, here). Likewise, egg prices also hit record levels as pandemic buying boosted demand. According to the Agriculture Department, during the last days of March, wholesale egg prices rose more than 50% in some parts of the country because of demand. However, this seems to be only a temporary rise. In the medium term, meat prices are expected to fall again, due both to the downward trend in meat prices in China and to the fears of an economic recession caused by the pandemic. As has happened in the past, if the U.S. economy shrinks, that is likely to result in a lower demand for beef.
Also in the US, meat prices of marine animals have decreased 42%, caused by limited shipping to China, other Asian countries, and Europe (see also here). Exporters are actively searching for new markets.
By the same token, the seafood industry has been the most affected in Southeast Asia. Since China is the main export destination of the region, domestic prices have dropped sharply. Catfish prices, for example, dropped to US$0.77 per kg at the end of March, a US$1.26 drop from last year.
However, regarding pork, the opposite may be expected. As ASF continues affecting the region, pork prices are likely to remain high, as current trends suggest. For other reasons, pork production in the US was already facing important troubles, aggravated now by the pandemic. According to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), this activity was dealing with severe labor shortages on farms and in plants even before the COVID-19 outbreak (see NPPC’s letter here).
Consumption of some animal-based products is rising
According to the National Chicken Council in the U.S., sales of meat – of different types, but excluding deli meat – increased 77% during the week of 8 to 15 March compared to the same time in the previous year. In terms of earnings, the most favored meat products were ground beef, chicken breasts, pork loin, chuck, and ribeyes (in decreasing order). During the week of 22 March, three fresh proteins more than doubled sales versus the same week in 2019: turkey, exotic meats (such as duck and bison), and pork. So far, the beef and chicken meat industries seem the most benefited from these sales increases.
The increase in demand has been such that by the second half of March, empty meat shelves have been a familiar image in several supermarkets across the U.S. (see here, here, here). Likewise, eggs have been running low if not sold out altogether in many stores in the U.S. Much of this demand – around six times average volumes – is being satisfied with egg inventories that producers were building for Easter sales. Due to these rampant sales, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the department is relaxing some grading regulations to allow older eggs to make the grade.
Since consumers can no longer buy eggs in supermarkets, families are trying to raise chickens on their own. Something similar has been observed in the United Kingdom as well. Assuming that these home-raised eggs are better than factory-farmed eggs from a welfare perspective, it would be desirable that a bigger proportion of eggs were consumed from home-raised chickens. However, chicks will not be mature enough for egg laying until a few months from now. Therefore, it is unclear to what extent these chickens will be reared under proper conditions or whether their owners will wait months (when perhaps the COVID-19 crisis has passed) before their hens can lay their first eggs.
Similarly, a boost in demand has also been reported for milk. Nevertheless, this boost in demand for animal-based products is likely to be a temporary phenomenon, since consumers are predominantly panic-buying, stockpiling products in response to the spread of the virus. Despite the increased demand, supply-chain disruptions are causing some producers in the U.S. to dump milk.
In the meantime, since COVID-19 has forced restaurants to close and people to stay home, companies in the U.S. are pivoting to produce the chicken, beef, and pig’s products that are preferred in retail, rather than the cuts that restaurants use (see here, here, here).
In Spain, the nationwide lockdown has led to an increase in the demand for animal-based products that are typically cooked at home rather than in restaurants, i.e., eggs, chicken meat, and pork. These products are also cheaper than other animal proteins.
Consumption of other animal products is decreasing
Probably, the most significant drops in global consumption of animal-based products are for marine animals. For the fishing industry of crabs, for example, it is said that the coronavirus pandemic brought unprecedented levels of decline to the sector, because of the drop in both international demand and domestic consumption. This is probably the situation for other economically valuable crustaceans, like lobsters and shrimps.
In addition, demand for other sea animal products in Canada, such as smoked salmon, is decreasing since there are no tourists to purchase these normally popular products.
In Spain, the quarantine imposed to control the virus has also led to decreased demand for the meats most commonly consumed in restaurants – namely, beef and lamb. This decline in demand is likely to cause a drop in prices as well.
In India, the sale of poultry products and eggs has declined due to the coronavirus outbreak. Wholesalers have reported a fall of 50% for poultry products, while retailers have seen sales plunge by 25-30%. According to producers, this decline obeys rumors spread by social media claiming that chickens are linked to the coronavirus (see here, here).
Still, the future of the animal protein market looks complex and changing
As presented, the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the animal farming industry worldwide at every point of the supply chain – production, distribution, consumption, prices, and the international trade of these products. However, note that some of these effects are likely to be temporary and will probably persist only in the short-term. Yet others may have a more long-lasting impact.
Currently, the most explicit short-term effects involve global disruptions in supply and demand, due to lockdowns in China and other countries. Locally, quarantine measures are shifting demand, favoring non-perishable products, as well as those products which are culturally preferred for at-home consumption. Both effects are negatively affecting the fishing and aquaculture industries in several countries, temporarily diminishing the demand of aquatic animals for human consumption. Furthermore, they entail additional problems for the pig farming industry, which had already suffered a blow due to the ongoing ASF outbreaks in China and other Asian countries. Contrariwise, beef, eggs, and chicken meat demand have reached record levels in some countries. However, this is mostly a result of panic-buying. It is, therefore, temporary.
Coronavirus outbreaks are rapidly evolving, and so are the market’s responses to these changes. Thus, it is particularly challenging to predict mid- and long- term impacts. Given the information currently available, some preliminary forecasts for the next few months are:
- As the pandemic continues, some effects on supply disruption and consumption driven by quarantine and logistics issues will temporarily persist. Since coronavirus is affecting supply and demand, it has the potential to impact global animal-products prices even further.
- The outlook for the animal farming industry for the rest of the year will be affected both by the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing ASF outbreaks in China and other Asian countries (see here, here, here).
- The ongoing ASF outbreaks drew a negative picture for the pig industry before COVID-19. Last year in China pork production declined by 22%. Now, a further drop in pork production in Asia is likely to happen, since there are no signs of ASF being brought under control. Experts predict China's pork production could drop by 15-20% in 2020.
- If pork prices remain high – as current trends suggest – the chicken industry is likely to benefit from the pork sector's difficulties. Before the pandemic, it was foreseen that during 2020 chicken meat would become the world's number one protein. Due to ASF, chicken meat production in China was expected to grow 15-20% in 2020. The impacts of COVID-19 and avian influenza make the future more complex and, at least, slow down the positive trends for the industry – insofar as supply chain challenges are adequately managed.
- The pandemic is now expected to cause a global economic slowdown, which could benefit chicken meat demand (among that of other animal proteins), due to its price competitiveness compared to beef or pork (see here, here, here). Similarly, an economic slowdown is likely to reduce the demand for other animals, such as those more commonly consumed outside (like fishes in some countries) and economically valuable crustaceans (i.e., lobsters, crabs, and shrimps). Nonetheless, given the exceptional nature of the situation, “it is probably wise not to focus too much on the past recession to predict how consumers might respond to one potentially caused by the coronavirus”, economist J. Lusk warns.
- COVID-19 is not the first disease that has caused food chain disruptions in China. Previously, the SARS outbreak, the avian influenza (H7N9) and, more recently, the ongoing ASF outbreak, have all affected the stock of animals farmed for human consumption and – except for ASF – caused different public health problems. Now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, China is likely to restructure its meat production and distribution system. This transformation will probably involve phasing out “wet” or open-air markets, as well as a switch to a cold-chain model. In terms of production, this change entails a move towards the intensive farming of animals, leaving animal protein production in the hands of large corporations or state owned enterprises. This transformation may also facilitate the acceptance of plant-based protein (see here, here, here, here).
Nevertheless, these forecasts should be taken with caution. The conditions created by the ongoing pandemic keep changing and are likely to continue doing so. That will have further consequences on the global demand and consumption of animal proteins.
The growth of the plant-based meat sector started to take hold a few years ago. In 2019, Tom Hayes, CEO of Tyson Foods, one of the world's largest meat producers, stated that “plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based.” However, as food services face a new reality and consumption behaviors change due to the coronavirus pandemic, how is this crisis affecting the positive trend in plant-based protein consumption?
The United States and Europe
A recent report by Nielsen shows how US sales of plant-based meat products soared by 279.8% during the week ending March 14, compared to the same week last year. This is not surprising, given the widespread increase in product sales in retail stores amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, compared to meat products, there's a significant difference: for that same week, fresh chicken sales grew by 51.8%, and canned meat up to 187.8%:
However, these positive data for plant-based companies should be considered with caution, given the high volatility of the market today and in upcoming weeks. Indeed, around mid-March – while simultaneously plant-based protein sales were increasing – Beyond Meat saw their share price plummet as the broader stock market cratered on coronavirus fear.
While Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat may experience a rise in demand for their products at grocery stores, the economic consequences of the ongoing pandemic will probably slow down momentum for the plant-based protein trend. If the U.S. and Europe dip into a recession, such an economic slowdown will disrupt plant-based companies' business at a time when they should be increasing consumer adoption. During a period of economic downturn, consumers are instead more likely to opt for less expensive food products and eat out less –whenever that's possible.
Impossible Foods expects the financial downturn to weigh on its business. Still, on March 16, the company announced it had closed a $500 million funding round to develop new products, and it is exploring new credit lines to tackle the likely coronavirus-induced economic fallout. A couple of weeks earlier, Spanish startup Novameat announced that it is close to perfecting their plant-based steak. Their plan for the following months was to begin working with top chefs and to scale up production.
It is unknown how the plant-based sector will evolve in this volatile macroeconomic environment. Once COVID-19 quarantines are lifted, and the outbreak is more or less behind, people will slowly return to their usual daily routines. But, as the Nielsen investigation suggests, despite a possible recession, in this new normal people are likely to consume "with a renewed cautiousness about health." Will these new health-minded behaviors be associated with a higher preference for plant-based proteins, viewed as a safer and more reliable food? Though that is possible, we cannot know with certainty. So far, China is the only country with a large part of the population impacted by the pandemic that is beginning its return to normalcy. Coronavirus has already caused an array of changes in consumption, and we still need to understand the ones that will come next, how long they will last, and whether any of these changes may be permanent.
China’s massive market potential to drive growth and widespread change for protein in the future is well known. In 2019, the Good Food Institute estimated that the market size of the Chinese domestic plant-based meat industry was about 910 million USD–that is, 33% larger than the U.S. market, and growing at an annual rate of 14.2%.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, ASF had already depleted the country’s pork supply, which caused pork prices to soar. That did not only make chicken meat or beef more affordable options, but it may also have contributed to the competitiveness of plant-based meat. Now, coronavirus has also disrupted China's meat supply in multiple ways. The above, along with the threat of avian flu, is likely to increase the consumers’ willingness to try new plant-based proteins. In words of David Yeung, founder of Hong Kong-based Green Common, “demand for healthy food will skyrocket in China as awareness on food safety must be at a whole new level.”
For Beyond Meat, the pandemic raises “an opportunity for hyper growth” and for expansion into Asia. For his part, Joshua Tetrick, CEO of the plant-based egg company Just, stated that the firm has received new requests from Chinese state-backed food companies interested in animal-free protein sources. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government would be seeking to restrain animal protein consumption, in order to reduce the risk of future outbreaks.
Likewise, U.S. plant-based meat start-up Nature’s Fynd said it has recently secured US$80 millions in funding. As Beyond Meat, the company is preparing to expand into China.
While Just is already selling its products in China, Beyond Meat and Nature’s Fynd are not only new to this market, but will have to deal with a strong competitor: Cargill. The corporation is developing new plant-based meat products that will be introduced in the U.S. market in April, along with a global distribution plan that includes China. Unlike the start-ups, Cargill has key advantages: “This includes our established sourcing and manufacturing strengths in the animal protein sector that transfer well to plant-based protein,” the company stated.
What can we do?
“Coronavirus is the black swan of 2020”, Sequoia Capital warned some weeks ago. After the 2008 recession, economists appropriated the term “black swan” to refer to events that are rare, extremely impactful and unpredictable. As a black swan, the pandemic is spreading and changing day by day, sometimes with consequences that cannot be foreseen. In changing and uncertain times, it is not only challenging to describe the current situation, but even more difficult to anticipate the coming months and propose actions to deal with it. Still, for those who care about farmed animal welfare, here are some rough and preliminary ideas:
- Regarding the welfare of land animals, current trends make the case for chicken welfare even stronger than before the COVID-19 and the ASF outbreaks.
- At a different pace, the coronavirus outbreak is negatively impacting the foodservice and tourism industries worldwide. This sector is likely to confront new supply chain disruptions even once they reopen. This, along with a recession, will force organizations that run corporate outreach campaigns to consider strategic changes in their work – probably, focusing less on restaurant and hotel chains and more on grocery chains.
- The imminent modernisation of the meat industry in China is likely to introduce stronger food safety standards, especially with regards to quality supervision. This transformation may open new opportunities for setting higher animal welfare standards, at least on behalf of land animals.
- Countries like China and Vietnam announced the closing of their wet markets. Previously, after the SARS outbreak, China announced a similar ban. However, wet markets reopened when the issue was no longer on the public agenda. Thus, campaigns that claim a ban on wet markets, even if they are successful, should be accompanied by efforts to hold governments accountable. Otherwise, they are likely to create a false sense of accomplishment. It is known that law enforcement, especially regarding animals, can be a problem in the region. Additionally, due to the size of the market, if a ban is not adequately managed, it can lead to an explosion of a black market for animals. Such campaigns should count on the experience and leadership of local animal welfare organizations or advocates.
- Among consumers, the current coronavirus pandemic will likely prompt stronger concerns for safer and healthier food, making them more willing to try new plant-based protein products. Both companies and animal advocates can take advantage of this opportunity by promoting easy and affordable plant-based recipes or meals.
- After the outbreak a renewed awareness of food safety may favor campaigns that highlight the high public costs and other problems of animal farming. An example of such possible initiatives is an excise tax on meat to help cover the health and environmental costs that result from this industry. Still, now might be a good time to start planning these campaigns, especially if they aim a political or legislative change.
- I believe we should strongly discourage campaigns or ads that suggest, intentionally or not, that “Asians eat weird animals”, “Asians [unlike Westerns] are especially cruel to animals” or that “we shouldn’t eat wild/non-traditional animals.” Aryenish Birdie and Michelle Rojas-Soto from Encompass provide helpful guidelines for animal advocates to process and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their proposal, based on a diversity, equity, and inclusion framework, is a much needed approach to combat the hostility, when not open racism, toward East Asian people that the pandemic has exposed – even from animal advocates.
The current coronavirus is affecting animals used for human consumption in many different ways. It directly generates additional sources of animal suffering. It is also transforming consumption behaviors and the international market for animal and plant-based products.
I have been tracking these changes and summarizing them for those who are trying to understand these complex and uncertain times, and want to plan for what comes next for non-human animals. Still, it is likely that in the next two or three weeks the scenario here described will undergo major transformations as the virus expands into Latin America and Africa. In Latin America the public health system is already precarious. In addition, it is one of the world’s leading food suppliers, and the greatest global exporter of beef and chicken meat. In Sub Saharan Africa, the pandemic will not only worsen human food insecurity, but it is likely to deteriorate even more the situation of farmed animals – who already have to cope with diseases, parasites, food shortages, and poor housing conditions, resulting in high levels of mortality.
In the meantime, I am updating this document daily with relevant news articles about how the situation is evolving for animals used for human consumption and, when possible, for those living in the wild.
This report was written by Daniela R. Waldhorn. Thanks to Eze Paez, Jason Schukraft, and Matias Vazquez for their contributions.
To conduct this work, I employed a systematic search of media articles according to the following basic rules:
- Search terms: I ran searches on Google (www.google.com) using broad keywords: “coronavirus” + “animals” or “meat” or “meat consumption” or “consumption” or “consumers”; “covid” + “animals” or “meat” or “meat consumption” “consumption” or “consumers”; “coronavirus” + “fish” or “fishery” or “fishing”; “covid” + fish” or “fishery” or “fishing”. Other keywords used were “chicken”, “eggs”, “aquaculture”, “plant-based”, along with “coronavirus” or “covid”. I then examined the results to identify further useful keywords.
- I also ran searches on two websites specialized in the animal farming industry (www.WATTAgNet.com and www.UnderCurrentNews.com) in order to identify market trends and other specific issues that might be on-trend.
- All searches were connected to the term “covid” or “coronavirus”. I searched for articles that contained the keywords anywhere within the text of the news articles retrieved.
- I only covered publications that were dated between 1 January 2020 and 1 April 2020.
- Given the amount of information retrieved (usually, thousands of results), I restricted my search on Google to the first 5 pages of results before refining any search term.
- Language: searches included all English language news within all online resources indexed in Google. Occasionally and acting upon suggestions from contributors (see below), I also reviewed news articles in Spanish and French.
- Finally, experienced animal welfare advocates and researchers provided several news articles that were crucial to refine further searches. Thanks to Haven King-Nobles, Jessika Ava, Laura Fernández, Mary Finelli, Matias Vazquez, Peter Hurford, Pia Shazar, Rachel Smith, and Samuel Álvarez Rodríguez for their valuable contributions.
All articles resulting from the searches were screened to confirm that they related to the particular issue in question in an appropriate context. In this regard, only informative news articles were included. Hence, news pieces like opinion articles were dismissed.
Since I decided to focus on the consequences of COVID-19 on animals used for human consumption (whether farmed or captured), I excluded from my analysis any results about animals under human control for other purposes.
Finally, I categorized the emergent issues into four broad categories: welfare concerns, fishing and aquaculture, production and consumption of animal-based products, and plant-based meat. The content analysis of these news articles was supported by market reports cited through this article.
The reasons for the decline in demand in India are addressed in Consumption of other animal products is decreasing. ↩︎
Every year, around 2.4 million live animals are exported from Australia for slaughter overseas. Most of them are cows (1,126,379 animals in 2018) and sheeps (1,176,051 individuals for that same year). ↩︎
The “Great Recession” in 2007-2009 had a significant impact on food spending in the U.S. During the recession, per capita beef consumption dropped and only started to improve after 2010. While spending on eating out fell, all at-home food spending increased in 2008 before falling in 2009, but the increase was smaller for beef (and pork) (see here, here). ↩︎
Please note that this news article is from April 3rd, and therefore, it is outside the time range that I initially covered for conducting this report –that is, publications that were dated between 1 January 2020 and 1 April 2020. See Annex: Methodology. ↩︎
B. Spillane, a Wall Street analyst, downgraded Beyond Meat's stock from ‘neutral’ to ‘underperform’ with a price target lowered from $126 to $50. ↩︎
Similarly, some days ago, several sources claimed that China would have reopened its wet food markets (e.g., here, here, here). However, L. Bollard highlights that "all of these reports appear to be based on one by the UK's Daily Mail, whose correspondents documented wet markets selling farm animals and medicinal products from wild animals — which, unfortunately, were never covered by the ban." Indeed, the ban only covered wildlife trade and consumption, but not for medicinal use. Still, the Daily Mail's article claims that "the markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before," and explicitly states that "wild animals still for sale as food." Since wild animals used for consumption were supposed to be covered by the ban, if it is true that they are being sold back in these markets, the announced ban would not be complied with. ↩︎
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