FAU Bioethiker offers plausible solutions for the containment of the zoonotic risk from agriculture and food production for public health

As early as the Neolithic Age (approx. 3900 BC), the domestication of animals probably led to the development of diseases such as measles and smallpox. Since then, zoonosis has led to other major transnational outbreaks, including HIV, Ebola, SARS, MERS, and H1N1 swine flu, among others. Currently, more than half of all existing human pathogens and almost three quarters of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in nature.
COVID-19 is the newest and most influential zoonotic event of modern times, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Given the breadth of these effects and the fact that other zoonotic pandemics are very likely – a question of when, not if – the key ethical ethical question is whether it is ethically appropriate for governments to intervene to prevent future pandemics. And since SARS, swine flu, and 1918 Spanish flu (along with other zoonotic outbreaks) all came from livestock farms, concerns about preventing future pandemics suggests re-examining the current global food system – in the name of health protection.

In an article published in the magazine Food ethics, Justin Bernstein, Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic University, senior author, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, and member of the FAU Center for the Future Mind, funded by the FAU Brain Institute and co-author Jan Dutkiewicz, Ph. D., postdoc at Concordia University, offer three plausible solutions to reduce the risk of zoonoses associated with intensive animal husbandry. They are investigating how to create incentives for plant and cell-based food alternatives from animal sources through state subsidies, to deactivate intensive food production from animal sources by introducing a “zoonosis tax” and to eliminate intensive food production from animal sources by a complete ban.

“Modern medicine has not only failed to catch up with the zoonotic threat, it is losing ground in a way, in part because of growing global antibiotic resistance. From a health ethical point of view, we should therefore evaluate measures to contain zoonotic risks, ”said Bernstein, whose expertise focuses on questions of moral and political philosophy and bioethics and their intersection. “This is particularly the case with systemic, predictable sources of zoonosis risk such as agriculture and food production. We argue that if the government can protect public health in general, that permission extends to a radical change in current animal husbandry practices. ”

The first and arguably the least intrusive public health intervention that the authors offer is to incentivize alternative choices. Second, they suggest that public health discourage relevant behavior that poses a public health risk by adding costs. Given that the production of food from animal sources can lead to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases that can harm both consumers and non-consumers, the authors argue that the goal of discouraging both production and consumption is driven by a Pigouvian tax – a “zoonosis tax” – could be achieved. on meat.

The third and most intrusive type of intervention is for the government to restrict or eliminate options. In the context of reducing the risk of zoonotic pandemics, the authors say governments may consider making intensive animal husbandry illegal. Obviously, given the disruption of food supply chains and of both local and national economies, such a ban would need to be adopted cautiously and gradually.

“While there are urgent short-term public health actions that can mitigate the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not lose sight of how to prevent the devastation of a future pandemic. In response to the current pandemic, it is a natural thought to focus on what public health officials and local governments should be focusing on contact tracing, more testing, social distancing and appropriate personal protective equipment, “said Bernstein. “While all of these approaches are invaluable, they are not really preventative as they do not address a root cause of future zoonotic risks: intensive animal husbandry.”

The authors suggest that the risk of another pandemic may be the right consideration in motivating people to seriously reconsider current dietary practices, especially after they have seen firsthand how devastating a pandemic can be.

“The risk of infectious diseases associated with animal husbandry is often overlooked. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to pay attention to food production and examine how similar outbreaks can be reduced in the future in the interests of global, collective public health, “said Bernstein. “While the exact causes of this particular pandemic have yet to be investigated further, we have highlighted the causal role of intensive animal husbandry in other pandemics and its contribution to the increased risk of future zoonotic outbreaks.”


About Florida Atlantic University::
Florida Atlantic University, founded in 1961, officially opened in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today the university looks after more than 30,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students at six locations along the southeast coast of Florida. In recent years the university has doubled its research spending and outperformed its competitors in academic achievement. Through the coexistence of access and excellence, FAU embodies an innovative model in which traditional performance gaps disappear. FAU is named a Hispanic Institution, rated by the US News & World Report as one of the best public universities, and by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as an institution with high research activity. Further information is available at http: // www.stupidedu .


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