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Poo, puppy farms and pandemics

Image credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/ One Voice

As we live through the COVID pandemic it can seem that the cause of this disease is something quite alien - it came from the other side of the world and arose in circumstances over which it may seem we have little control. The reality though is that in both Ireland and the UK there exist conditions in animal industries that could give rise to pandemics of the same kind we are experiencing now. One area that we have had a significant amount of involvement in is puppy farming in Ireland - we believe the way in which this industry presently operates also poses a serious public health risk.

Prior to the inception of TAAP I was involved in drafting objections to applications for retention planning permission* sought by two puppy farmers** in Cavan. During this process we discovered that raw waste from dog breeding facilities, greyhound breeding/training facilities and hunt kennels was disposed of by spreading on agricultural land.

Let that sink in for a minute - dog poo is being spread in an untreated form over farmland.

But it gets worse... because this was done with the approval of various County Councils and An Bord Pleanala (the Irish Planning Board). We also know that some of that farmland is in areas where there are groundwater systems nearby that feed into private wells and/or there are streams leading into large bodies of water that are used for fishing and recreational purposes.

(Limerick approved this waste disposal method on Geraldine Shelton's dog breeding facility - planning application 071182 - image obtained from Limerick County Council's Planning Portal)

(Limerick approved this waste disposal method for the Dromore Harriers Hunt Club - planning application 071035 image obtained from Limerick County Council's Planning Portal)

If you aren't grossed out yet - you should be becasue dog poo is crawling with disease. There is a reason why there are laws to make people pick up dog poo. There is a reason why we don't dig dog poo into our vegetable gardens. Unless dog poo is treated in a very particular way for a period of time, it is not safe. This is partly because some of the diseases in dog poo are pretty hardy and can survive in soil for months.

Faeces from healthy dogs is a problem, but the situation is made so much worse when that poo comes from dogs in puppy farms. Why? Because the conditions in puppy farms are not conducive to good mental and physical welfare, it predisposes dogs to becoming sick. Couple that with large numbers of dogs kept in close confinement and substandard hygiene conditions - and there exists a recipe for the outbreak of disease. Now imagine taking all that potentially diseased poo and wastewater and spreading it all over farmland. I know how gross my dogs’ poo is normally , and it becomes exponentially more disgusting when they are sick. The idea of taking that poo and digging it into a vegetable garden or letting it seep into a water supply - not appetising at all and certainly not consistent with good hygiene.

Image Credit: Getty Images

There exist other problems as a consequence of this practice though. The diseases present in dog poo don’t just pose a threat to humans, they also pose a threat to other animals. Often livestock graze on farmland, wildlife may come onto farmland and there is always the potential for these diseases to infect animals and fish living in lochs and streams surrounding the areas where the waste is spread. Herein lies a big problem, we don’t always know how the interaction between the diseases found in dogs may evolve or change when they infect other species. One of the problems with Coronavirus is that whilst we think it likely the virus came from bats, we don’t quite know how the virus was transmitted between species and how the virus might have changed. The underlying problem was that humans created conditions where diseases could be easily spread between animals. We will never eradicate all viruses, but we can control our environments to limit the extent to which we may be exposed to these viruses. Spreading dog waste on agricultural land in Ireland creates an environment that has the potential to give rise to outbreaks of disease.

And for what? Why are officials risking the health of the country to allow individuals who keep huge numbers of dogs to cheaply and easily dispose of waste? I don't know. I don't think that anyone who has been involved in the decision making around the disposal of dog waste has properly weighed up the risks. The worst case scenario is that this method of waste disposal gives rise to a pandemic. We all know the devastation that pandemics cause both socially and economically. Whilst the likelihood of a pandemic arising might be very small, when it is considered against the reason why this risk is being run - which is to save puppy farmers, greyhound breeders and hunts money - the idiocy of the decision making becomes apparent. Even if you want to dismiss the pandemic argument, there exist other risks - outbreaks in humans of known diseases but which could lead to fatalities in vulnerable people; outbreaks of disease in livestock which is both devastating for the animals and has economic consequences; eutrophication of waterways which can lead to destruction of natural habitats and which can affect the tourism revenue of the region. All this is being risked to enable three industries that the Irish public are already very dubious of, to save money.

(Image of eutrophication)

So whilst you may not be able to prevent wet markets in Wuhan, you can work to stop practises like this happening in Ireland. You can do this by supporting and working with us. We want to inform the public of this issue. We also want greater transparency from officials - we should be entitled to know how widespread this practice is and where it is happening. We believe that this practice is illegal and we want to challenge it. As we undertake more work we will write further on this, but if you have any questions - please get in touch.

*Retention planning permission is sought when the applicant has already undertaken the work i.e. they are seeking planning permission retrospectively. Yeah... sneaky huh... we aren't a fan either.

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