A prominent animal welfare group is demanding Indonesia shut down civet cat farms that produce the world-renowned kopi luwak coffee, highlighting the growing body of evidence between wildlife and pandemics.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said Wednesday, September 9, that Indonesia’s kopi luwak industry, which sells coffee made from digested beans that have been eaten, digested and excreted by civet cats, poses risks to human health and is cruel to the small mammal.
A video investigation carried out by the group showed that the Asian palm civet cats were kept in filthy and rusting cages at kopi luwak farms in parts of Indonesia where they are fed with coffee berries, their lucrative droppings collected on site.
In a letter addressed to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the group asked him to shut down the kopi luwak farms and stop wild animal trade, warning that it is a breeding ground for zoonotic diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which had its origins in and around a wet market in Wuhan, China, may have jumped to humans from pangolins, the most trafficked animal on earth.
“As the coronavirus tightens its grip on Indonesia and the rest of the world, people are becoming increasingly alarmed by businesses involving wild-caught animals,” Jason Baker, PETA Senior Vice President of International Campaigns, said in a statement. “Some of those fears can be allayed by shutting down the kopi luwak industry immediately.”
In the footage, civet cats, which are nocturnal animals, are seen frantically pacing in circles in their cages, seemingly looking for a way out. Feces mixed with rotten coffee berries in the rusty metal cages.
Animals that become sick or injured are either discarded in the wild or sold to live-animal markets in Indonesia, where they mingle with other animals and species which facilitate the spread of diseases, the group said.
The World Health Organization said SARS-CoV, the coronavirus outbreak that infected more than 8,000 people between 2002 and 2004, originated as an animal virus that possibly jumped from bats to civets and then to humans.
PETA said it was alarmed that even during the current pandemic, live-animal markets were still operating in Indonesia.
“These squalid conditions can spread deadly diseases. The investigators also went to a live-animal market, where potentially sick civet cats are sold, and saw how easily they could spread deadly diseases to other animals, including humans. As you know, the SARS virus circulated in caged civet cats before it was transmitted to humans,” the letter to Jokowi read.
The group also slammed the industry’s alleged misrepresentations of products. One farmer told a PETA investigator they can promote kopi luwak as wild-sourced even though it was sourced from captive-animals in horrendous conditions.
“That amounts to three strikes against the industry: Kopi luwak farms can spread deadly diseases, the industry's egregious cruelty tarnishes Indonesia's global standing, and its unethical business model is simply unacceptable,” the letter said.
The Indonesian government and the main industry association working with civet cat farms did not return VICE News requests for comment.