“If we do not do things differently, we are finished. We can’t go on very much longer like this," she said, calling for an overhaul of our food systems and end to the destruction of natural habitats.
The renowned conservationist, 86, issued the warning at an online conference on Tuesday to address pandemics, wildlife and intensive animal farming hosted by campaigners Compassion in World Farming, where she spoke alongside two European Commissioners.
The panel looked at the risks of future pandemics caused by humanity's encroachment on natural habitats of wild species and overexploitation of natural resources. It also looked at the wildlife trade and trafficking along with how intensive factory farming leads to mass confinement and suffering of farmed animals, enabling conditions for viruses to spill over from their animal hosts into humans. Factory farming has been linked to antimicrobial resistance.
Dr Goodall, who changed the world's understanding of chimpanzees through her decades of research, said that intensive farming was increasing the threat of animal diseases that could spread to humans. The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019, is believed to have jumped from an animal to human in a “zoonotic spillover” event. Scientists have suggested the virus was transmitted from a bat via an intermediary species.
She said: “We have brought this on ourselves because of our absolute disrespect for animals and the environment. Our disrespect for wild animals and our disrespect for farmed animals has created this situation where disease can spill over to infect human beings.”
Dr Goodall said that tackling poverty was key to saving the natural world as desperate people will cut down forests and choose the cheapest foods available to survive. She also said that we should put pressure on companies who continue to use factory farming and drain natural resources by not buying their products.
“We have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world,” she said. "One of the lessons learnt from this crisis is that we must change our ways. Scientists warn that to avoid future crises, we must drastically change our diets and move to plant-rich foods. For the sake of the animals, planet and the health of our children.”
Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s commissioner for health and food safety, said that the bloc was developing new strategies to deal with the threats.
Last month the European Commission released its plan to tackle biodiversity loss, the "EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030". It addressed the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which has been criticised for its impacts on natural habitats. The commission said that at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land must be transitioned to organic farming by 2030 and 10% of agricultural land returned to “high diversity” landscapes, including fallow land, hedges and ponds.
It also calls for cutting the use of chemical pesticides in half and reducing fertiliser use by 20%. By 2030, the commission wants the sale of antimicrobials – products that includes antibiotics – to be cut in half for animal and fish farming.
Compassion in World Farming has called for the EU to take dramatic action through its Farm to Fork Strategy, the Biodiversity Strategy and the Common Agricultural Policy in order to avoid future crises.
The Independent is calling for an end to the high-risk sale and trafficking of wildlife with our campaign, Stop The Wildlife Trade