Karner Blue Capital: Rethinking the Link Between Animal Welfare and Human Health

This post by Andrew Niebler of Karner Blue Capital is part of a series in which IEN members will share their thinking about intentional investing in the face of the global pandemic. Follow along to get insight into the new challenges and opportunities we as a network are facing


Andrew K. Niebler, Co-founder and Executive Vice President of Karner Blue Capital.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the globe, we must face the facts about the link between infectious diseases like COVID-19 and the mistreatment of animals. Otherwise, we are going to be facing a new normal where zoonotic viruses continue to run rampant and threaten global health and economic growth.

COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus, meaning it originated in animals before crossing over to human populations. It is just the latest zoonotic virus to affect health worldwide, and it will not be the last. Research indicates that up to 60% of new infectious diseases in humans originated in animals and one in three new outbreaks are related to deforestation and other land-use changes.  

Researchers believe that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 originated in a “wet market” where live animals are held, slaughtered, and sold in densely packed, high-stress, unsanitary, and poorly regulated conditions. Human contact with the blood and body parts of wild animals at such markets is a major source for the transmission of zoonotic viruses that spread from animals to humans. 


While efforts to close wet markets are important, that alone will not be enough to abate public health threats posed by reckless animal handling practices. It is time to rethink our relationship with animals. Something will have to change.

The wet markets are only one source of human health threats caused by the mistreatment of animals. There are many more to address:

  • The reckless overuse of antibiotics in many industrial meat production facilities could give rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could spark a new global health crisis.
  • The demand for exotic animals as pets and the use of animals for entertainment, food, trophy hunting, clothing, and personal products is driving increased contact between humans and wild animals. This means even more opportunities for zoonotic transmissions. 
  • The bushmeat trade in Africa, claiming the lives of hundreds of millions of wild animals each year, drives contact and consumption that are an imminent threat to human health. 
  • The continuing loss of natural habitats increases contact among humans, livestock, and wild animals. 
  • Climate change wreaks havoc with ecosystems and migration patterns. A warmer planet also has the potential to give rise to new pathogens and may allow existing diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, and Lyme disease, to spread even further as the mosquitoes and ticks carrying those diseases expand their ranges.

We must work to mitigate the risk of future zoonotic viruses by making serious and persistent efforts to stop and reverse biodiversity loss.  With about half of the world’s GDP, or approximately $44 trillion, dependent on ecosystem services and robust biodiversity, the current pace of plant and animal extinctions not only threatens our health but is also leading all of us down a path to ruin.  Our daily choices, from the mundane to the atypical, impact biodiversity.  Whether we decide to eat a vegetarian meal, or eat less red meat, or to recycle more diligently, we each have a footprint on the environment and biodiversity.  As everyday consumers, we each have the ability to make conscious decisions to redirect our spending to support more sustainable businesses.  We can decide to attend a farmer’s market to support local farmers that use less land and do not encroach on wildlife habitats, or we can purchase from corporations with no sustainability policies or practices that continue to focus on short-term profits, at the cost of the environment and biodiversity.  Or, somewhere in the middle of the two, we can buy from a corporation that responsibly sources its products and emphasizes sustainable supply chains.   Against the backdrop of climate change and accelerating rates of extinction, consumers must embrace their power to spur a societal transition to a world in which people learn to live in harmony with nature.

Investors also have a very significant role.  By investing in companies that prioritize biodiversity protection, climate change mitigation, and animal welfare, investors can encourage good corporate behavior and help to protect the health of our planet for future generations. A recent estimate suggests that corporate capital expenditures totaling hundreds of billions of dollars annually over the next decade will be needed to transition companies operating in industries with high biodiversity impacts toward more sustainable business models that will preserve nature and its ecosystems.  By encouraging corporate management teams to adopt sustainable, forward-looking corporate behaviors, investors can help make the companies in their portfolios more resilient while benefiting from business transformations that form the foundation for a prosperous future.

At Karner Blue Capital, we build and manage investment strategies that seek to achieve these outcomes by identifying and investing in companies that embrace innovation and disruptive technologies and practices through the adoption of environmental solutions such as circular economies, regenerative agriculture, plant-based foods and textiles, emissions capture technologies and reforestation and afforestation efforts.  Karner Blue Capital believes that the combination of innovation and problem solving, along with an unhesitating embrace of best practices when it comes to environmental and animal conservation, can help to protect humanity from the threat of future zoonotic viruses and better position businesses for growth and success in today's marketplace.  

This article was written by Andrew K. Niebler Co-founder and Executive Vice President of Karner Blue Capital. Andrew can be reached at [email protected]


Get up to date IEN News

Sign up for our Newsletters