While it is important to include health determinants and health equity insights into human health, applying equity thinking to animal health is also highly relevant for a range of intersecting reasons. The extinction crisis of the Anthropocene is drawing attention to the inequitable treatment of animals and the degradation of biodiversity because of economic and human population growth. This is in part because of practices which subordinate the health and well-being of animals to humans, whether it is through direct and planned actions (such as overfishing) or indirect actions (such as habitat encroachment or destruction), or long-term processes (such as global climate change). There are diverse yet changing public perspectives on the idea that current practices of conceiving of animal health as a relational state vis-a-vis the utility value of animals for humans (such as for food or as companions) should be discontinued. These perspectives influence food choices, farming practices, and even the allocation of rights to some animals (Shaw, 2018). The application or adoption of these perspectives fluctuates with crisis events that can retract the extension of equitable treatment to animals.

Re-evaluating human’s approach towards animals is important in the current extinction crisis, which represents the sixth mass extinction on the planet and is predicted to result in 30-50% of all species moving towards extinction by the mid-century (Center for Biological Diversity, 2020). The current ratio of humans to mammals on the planet is deeply skewed where the numbers of domestic species and humans on Earth vastly outnumber wild mammals. How we influence animal’s access to determinants of health have consequences for the animals as well as for people. Chapter 23, for example, highlights how modern farming practices contribute to the global antimicrobial resistance crisis. Chapter 15 on climate change draws our attention to how animal agricultural practices contribute to climate change, which in turn is impacting farm animal, wildlife, and human health. Inequitable approaches to animal health can lead to unsustainable circumstances that are dangerous to both human and animal health now and in the future. The deep social inequities which play out across human populations also influence animal health and well-being. In North America, one consequence of settler colonialism was the systematic desecration of animals that Indigenous peoples relied on for food, shelter, spiritual practice, and tradition, such as the eradication of the plains and wood bison populations (Center for Biological Diversity, 2020). Today, threats to caribou and salmon are placing contemporary pressure on Indigenous communities in these same contexts. Colonial relationships also play out in the domain of conservation (Garland. 2008).

Social determinants such as race, gender, education, and socio-economic status are factors which drive patterns of discrimination within the social world, which in turn shape human-animal interactions. For example, slaughterhouses in some countries employ racialized, low-income, and immigrant populations who can find themselves working in unsafe environments, leading to high rates of workplace injuries (Grzywacz et al., 2007; Nibert, 2014). Over the long term, there can also be impacts to mental health derived from the routinized mass killing and processing of animals as well as from witnessing or being forced to engage in the cruel treatment of animals (Grzywacz et ah, 2007). In another example, research is beginning to develop better tools for quantifying the links between animal abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence where perpetrators of animal abuse have often been found to go on to harm women and/or children (Pendergrass, 2017; Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, 2020; Febres et ah, 2014). At the scale of populations, in contexts of pandemics, civil unrest, and war, animal welfare tends to diminish, and in regions impacted by increased social strain, such as economic recession, incidences of animal neglect and abuse also tend to rise. These are few examples of the myriad interlocking ways that human and animal inequities are linked and serve as an invitation for further investigation to better understand the many ways that human and animal health are intertwined with justice, fairness, and equity.

Around the world, governance bodies are calling for more concerted action on tackling health inequities. Examples include the WHO’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health report (2008), the mainstreaming of Gender- Based Analysis Plus approaches to evidence building and policy formation, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015), the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This work now needs to be strengthened by a more deeply integrated understanding of the interdependence between human, animal, and environmental health. Work on sustainability and equity offer hope and clear pathways for building more socially just, environmentally resilient, and fair societies. Given the political will to usher in change, this is a powerful time in history to be working on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the human and animal health spheres.


The current moment is being shaped by interacting global environmental, social, and species changes, such as climate change; habitat degradation and loss; overexploitation of animals; global spread of invasive species, pathogens, and parasites; and an exponentially growing human population (Ceballos et al„ 2015). Despite considerable attention to the problem of health inequalities since the 1980s, striking differences in health still exist. Given that inequalities are products of the interplay between biological and social conditions as well as economic and political processes, they are complex phenomena to tackle with the greatest leverage points found where practices are unfair, unjust, and unnecessary. In other words, we refer to inequity as “unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption or cultural exclusion” (Tehrani et al„ 2019), which often leads to unnecessary disease and death. Health differences adversely affecting socially disadvantaged groups are particularly unacceptable because ill health can be an obstacle to overcoming social disadvantage (Braveman et al„ 2011).

Social inequality and imbalances of power are at the heart of environmental degradation. More unequal societies tend to have more polluted and degraded environments. Some proposed mechanisms for this relationship include the tendency for the wealthy to both consume more and hold more political power; the attempt for the less well-off to emulate the wealthy by consuming more; and the erosion of the necessary trust and social cohesion needed for environmental stewardship because of growing inequities (Cushing et al., 2015). The current extinction rate (which has been attributed to converging global stressors) is estimated to be 1,000 times higher than natural background rates (De Vos et al., 2015). These trends suggest we are failing to address the health promotion imperative to create supportive environments by protecting natural environments and conserving natural resources. Future health promoters need to ask the question: “Does the satisfaction of human health and wellbeing have to inevitably lead to the long-term degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity that diminish capacity for future generations and other species to have fair access to the resources and opportunities needed for health?” The emphasis on promoting human development through highly consumptive lifestyles seems to favour creating deprivation rather than creating and preserving opportunities found in healthy biodiversity as well as sustainable social and planetary processes.

Rapidly growing demands for food, freshwater, timber, fibre, and fuel have resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the Earth's biodiversity.

The nature, amount, and variability in biodiversity often determine the sustainability of and access to ecosystem services that are key determinants of a community’s capacity to adapt to future challenges, whether they arise from novel pathogens, emerging non-communicable diseases, or deprivations of the needs for daily living (Keune et al„ 2013). It is more difficult for communities to recover from disasters in situations where natural resources have been degraded (Miller et ah, 2006). This is reflected in the UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which recommends sustainable use and management of ecosystems to preserve ecological relationships and functions that reduce risks and support resilience. When we strive to promote health without taking nature into account, well-being comes at the cost of diminished ecological integrity and eroded environmental contributions to health. Our use of natural resources has resulted in substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development in the past two generations, but these gains have come at growing costs of the degradation of many ecosystem services and diminished access to their benefits by future generations.

At the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Parma, Italy in 2010, the Member States of the WHO European Region recognized that systematic processes and shared frameworks for identifying and redressing inequitable and interconnected impacts of social and environmental harms were required and that they needed to be grounded in work that addressed the underlying mechanisms or the causes of the causes of these harms. Given that “both distributive justice and procedural justice often characterize sociodemographi- cally disadvantaged groups,” such a framework would need to account for both the places and populations being affected as well as the processes and procedures through which risks and harms are produced (Kruize et al., 2014). Relatedly, the conditions within which reciprocal care relationships can exist are nested within social relations of power through which discourses and practices produce environmental degradation.

Access to ecological services is affected by decisions that influence access to and the quality and quantity of habitat that is protected. Conservation efforts not only impact wildlife and ecosystem health but also human well-being and social justice. The 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity includes a requirement for protected areas to be equitably governed and managed. Conservation efforts can be stalled or blocked by people claiming them to be unfair for one group for some reason. Resentment and a sense of injustice among those inequitably affected by protected areas can lead to conflicts that impede conservation efforts. Should, for example, a sheep farmer accept restrictions on access to grazing lands for his or her sheep in order to avoid the transmission of diseases from farmed sheep to wild sheep, as in the case in western North America? How can the direct economic hardship felt by the shepherd be compared to the public good of wild sheep conservation or the community economic impacts of hunting? When local people are empowered and there is more equitable sharing of benefits, the likelihood of effective conservation action increases for issues such as these (Pascual et al., 2014). A guiding principle for linking social equity and conservation is: “no human should infringe on the well-being of others (including other species) any more than is necessary for a healthy, meaningful life” (Vucetich et al„ 2018). The application of this principle is heavily influenced by prevailing (and sometimes conflicting) values and social priorities. Vucetich et ah, (2018) turned to three questions that can help consider conservation from an equity perspective: (i) is there equality of opportunity; (ii) is something necessary for realizing a healthy, meaningful life, and (iii) are those involved being treated as they deserve given their ability and situation? The links between social and environmental justice are becoming increasingly clear as is the imperative to consider issues of interspecies (human and animal) and intergenerational ecosocial justice.

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