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MUMBAI: The world’s addiction to intensive animal farming, in which thousands of stressed animals are kept in close proximity, is the perfect breeding ground for future pandemics, and world leaders must accelerate action to shift global diets towards more plant-based foods, says a white paper authored by global animal protection organisation, Humane Society International. HSI identifies a few primary pandemic risks associated with animal agriculture, creating a “petri dish” for pathogens to erupt, mutate and spread.

These have been identified as `virus spillover’, when the expansion of farms into previously wild areas brings wild and domestic species together; `viral amplification’, where novel viral strains are created through confining vast numbers of stressed animals indoors.

The research has also stated that `farm concentration’, where the dense geographic concentration of farms increases the risk of pathogens spreading, and `global live animal trade’, where huge numbers of live animals are transported between countries and continents, allowing pathogens to spread even further can lead to viral pandemics in near future.

The live animal markets, agricultural fairs and auctions, where “hubs” are created such that animals from many different places are brought into proximity with the public, where viruses can proliferate, is also a big potential risk factor.

Farm animals have been at the heart of multiple zoonotic disease outbreaks over the past two centuries, including H5N1 avian influenza transmitted from poultry to humans, and Nipah virus and HINI swine flu transmitted from pigs to humans. While the coronavirus pandemic prompted the world to acknowledge the need to shut down unsanitary wildlife markets implicated as a probable origin of the novel coronavirus, factory farms and slaughterhouses also have grave consequences for human health, and often far closer to home.

Alokparna Sengupta, Humane Society International India’s managing director, says: “The origin of the COVID-19 pandemic is associated to a live animal market where stressed animals crowded in cages, in unsanitary conditions; this begged the question-what other human exploitation of animals can lead to disease emergence? We now know that intensive animal agriculture is a top cause, and we also know the solution. If we want to prevent future pandemics such as the one we are fighting now, we have to leave out the animal products from our plates. The Government of India, along with the rest of the world, needs to actively encourage more plant-based eating.”

Like wildlife markets, intensive confinement systems used in animal agriculture crowd large numbers of animals together into small spaces, except at a much larger scale. In industrial chicken and egg production facilities, animals are raised by the tens- or even hundreds-of-thousands, breathing in the same dusty, ammonia-laden air in dim enclosures. Breeding pigs in the pork industry are commonly confined to metal stalls (gestation crates) so narrow they cannot even turn around, and hens kept for egg production are confined in cages so small they cannot stretch their wings. The more animals a virus has in which to replicate and mutate, the greater the chances that a new and deadly pathogen could arise from an infected production site.

To prevent another outbreak of zoonotic viruses like the one causing COVID-19, HSI urges and is campaigning for a substantial reduction in our global reliance on animal-based protein and public policies favouring the production of plant-based options in place of expanding animal agriculture.

HSI has noted that a reduction in the number of animals raised for human food, is to reduce animal population density both within farms and geographically. Also, a phase-out of the use of cages and crates used to overcrowd animals in intensive systems is required, besides a ban on the sale of poultry at all live bird markets and restrictions on live animal exhibitions.

Sara Shields, Humane Society International’s farm animal senior scientist, says : “If we study past outbreaks of an animal to human disease, we can see a pattern emerge that clearly identifies intensive animal farming as a key culprit. The outbreak of Nipah in Malaysia in 1997 was an example of wild to domestic species virus spillover, and meta-analysis has shown that highly pathogenic avian influenza is enabled by the confinement of thousands of birds together where mutating viruses are easily exchanged between hosts. We can make our world less vulnerable to future pandemics, but only by reevaluating animal agriculture and shifting more to plant-based sources of protein. To do this requires governments to actively engage in rebalancing our food system, but as consumers, we are also directly responsible for the impacts of our food choices. The plant-based food market is booming, making it easy to switch animal products for more plant-based alternatives. There is no better time than now to make conscientious decisions with the animals and the health of our planet in mind.”

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

2+2 talks: India, US clinch defence pact on satellite data

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NEW DELHI: India is set to sign a military agreement with the United States for sharing of sensitive satellite data, the defence ministry said on Monday, as New Delhi tries to narrow the gap with the powerful Chinese military.

The deal will be signed during the top-level 2+2 dialogue between the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Mark Esper arrived in New Delhi earlier today for talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh.

Live updates: India-US 2+2 dialogue

The high-level visit comes at a time when India is locked in a serious military standoff with China along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.

The landmark defence pact, known as Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation, or BECA, will allow India access to topographical, nautical and aeronautical data for better accuracy of weapons like missiles and drones.

It would also allow the United States to provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft to India, an Indian defence source said.

US companies have sold India more than $21 billion of weapons since 2007 and Washington has been urging the Indian government to sign agreements allowing for sharing of sensitive information and encrypted communications for better use of the high-end military equipment.

“The two ministers expressed satisfaction that agreement of BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) will be signed during the visit,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, Rajnath Singh and his US counterpart Mark Esper held talks on various defence and security issues ahead of 2+2 dialogue between both the countries scheduled on Tuesday.

The India-US talks on military issues here on Monday were “fruitful” and aimed at further deepening defence cooperation between two largest democracies in the world, Rajnath said after his meeting.

In its statement, the defence ministry said Singh and Esper reviewed bilateral defence cooperation spanning military-to-military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing and defence trade.

The ministry said the two ministers also called for continuation of existing defence dialogue mechanisms during the pandemic, at all levels, particularly the Military Cooperation Group (MCG).

They also discussed requirements of expanding deployments of liaison officers in each other’s facilities.

Apart from strengthening military-to-military cooperation and boosting partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, the issue of expeditious supply of contracted weapon systems by the US to India figured prominently in the deliberations.

The sources said, while deliberating on regional security challenges, the two sides briefly touched upon India’s border row with China in eastern Ladakh.

The India-US defence ties have been on an upswing in the last few years. In June 2016, the US had designated India a “Major Defence Partner” intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.

The two countries inked the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 that allows their militaries use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies as well as provide for deeper cooperation.

The two countries signed another pact called COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 that provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for sale of high end technology from the US to India.

According to the US government, India maintains the largest fleet of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside of the US, and as of 2020, Washington has authorised more than $20 billion in defence sales to India.

(With inputs from agencies)

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INDIA

Availability of graveyards, cremation grounds should be as per community population: Sakshi Maharaj

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UNNAO(UP): In yet another statement that may stoke a controversy, BJP‘s Unnao MP Sakshi Maharaj has said the availability of graveyards and cremation grounds should be in proportion to the population of communities living in an area.

Addressing a nukkad meeting for his party‘s candidate for the Bagarmau assembly bypolls, Sakshi Maharaj said, “If there is only one Muslim in a village, the graveyard is very big. You people, on the other hand, cremate your dead on the side of a farm or Gangaji. Is this not unfair?”

“Graveyards and cremation grounds should be as per population,” The Unnao MP said.

There should not be any test of “our patience and decency”, he added.

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INDIA

Hathras case: SC to deliver verdict on Tuesday on pleas seeking court-monitored probe

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce its judgment on Tuesday on a batch of pleas which have sought a court-monitored probe into the Hathras case, in which a Dalit girl was allegedly brutally raped and died of injuries, and transfer of trial to Delhi.

A bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde, Justice A S Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian had on October 15 reserved its verdict on a public interest litigation (PIL) and several intervention pleas of activists and lawyers who have argued that a fair trial was not possible in Uttar Pradesh as the probe has allegedly been botched up.

The lawyer, appearing for the victim’s family, had told the apex court that trial in the case be shifted out of Uttar Pradesh to a court in the national capital after completion of investigation.

A 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly raped by four upper-caste men in Hathras on September 14. She died on September 29 at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital during treatment.

The victim was cremated in the dead of the night near her home on September 30. Her family alleged they were forced by the local police to hurriedly conduct her last rites. Local police officers, however, said the cremation was carried out “as per the wishes of the family”

During the hearing in the apex court, activist-lawyer Indira Jaising had also raised apprehension of not having a fair trial in the case in Uttar Pradesh.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had referred to the affidavit filed in the apex court by the Uttar Pradesh government which gave details about the security and protection provided to the victim’s family and witnesses in the case.

The state government, which has already transferred the case to the CBI and has given consent to monitoring by the apex court, had filed the affidavit after the top court sought details on witness protection and on whether the victim’s family has chosen a lawyer.

Referring to the compliance affidavit, Mehta said that victim’s family has informed that they have engaged lawyer and they have also requested that government advocate should also pursue the case on their behalf.

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