New coronavirus-variant: Should we be scared?
Nov 2020

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After the coronavirus mutated this week and jumped back from mines to humans anew, there is panic about whether we are dealing with another danger. But should we worry? And what can we do to avoid such a situation?

When we were still living in caves, we wore furs against the cold – polar bear, beaver wolf, mink, cat skins, mole skins (my dad still owned mole skin gloves). And then came high fashion, and replaced necessity. Who else but Karl Lagerveld would have said:

In a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and even clothes, the discussion of fur is childish.

But here I have to tread carefully, because I hunt (at least until 20 years ago), catch fish, eat meat, wear leather shoes and have a leather jacket. Would I then, according to Lagerveld, be childish to let me out about dumb mink in Denmark?

I want to believe that I have a moral compass, and, in addition, apply an ethical framework in my academic and personal life, which is why I feel compelled to comment.

What is the mink fuss really about?

I must admit that I was blissfully unaware of the scale of mink farming, and was surprised to learn that more than 17 million miners are kept in Denmark alone.

Not 17 million beloved pets, but 17 million in breeding and growing cages, stuffed like chickens.

These conditions are, of course, heaven for any aggressive virus, and we now see that Covid-19 has jumped to mines, and back to humans.

Each jump was accompanied by a subtle mutation and therefore the panic.

In a fascinating BBC article, What’s the science behind mink and coronavirus? Helen Briggs says:

Every time the virus spreads between animals it changes, and if it changes too much from the one that is circulating within humans at the moment, that might mean that any vaccine or treatment that will be produced soon might not work as well as it should do. Its worrying, but we don’t yet know the full picture. – Dr. Marisa Peyre, epidemioloog van die Franse navorsingsinstituut Cirad

I could not have put it better.

Only three days ago, I warned on Facebook, following an article about chicken farming, that another pandemic was on the way.

A mink in his tiny box.

However, we need to think further, and ask whether similar zoonoses can occur in intensive pig farming, in chickens, in cattle in feedlots? The answer is simple: the more we deal intensively with animals, the higher the chances of catastrophic pandemics.

What can we do?

I find it difficult to get rid of meat, but these days I try to buy products that comply with a minimum environmental code.

Recently I wrote a chapter “Ecology and morality: transforming the non-human into connectedness with nature” in an academic book Moral issues in the natural sciences and technology.

In this I plead that nature is granted the same rights as humans. I believe we have little time to repair the damage to the earth, and therefore we must live, buy and trade with great care.

Do the miners in Denmark then have rights?

Yes, they certainly did, but clearly not as Covid vectors, and even more clearly, not as luxury coats for the select glitterati.

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