Jo-Anne McArthur

May 08, 2021A Public Health Ethics Case for Mitigating Zoonotic Disease Risk in Food Production

Animal Law & Policy Program Visiting Fellow Jan Dutkiewicz and Justin Bernstein explore arguments in favor or curtailing animal source food production and consumption.

In an article published online today, Visting Fellow Jan Dutkiewicz and Justin Bernstein argue that governments in countries that currently permit intensive animal agriculture – especially but not exclusively high-income countries – are, in principle, morally justified in taking steps to restrict or even eliminate intensive animal agriculture to protect public health from the risk of zoonotic pandemics.

Unlike many extant arguments for restricting, curtailing, or even eliminating intensive animal agriculture which focus on environmental harms, animal welfare, or the link between animal source food (ASF) consumption and noncommunicable disease, the argument in this article appeals to the value of protecting populations from future global health emergencies and their broad social, economic, and health impacts, taking the SARS-CoV-2 virus as a particularly salient example.

The article begins by identifying how intensive animal agriculture contributes to the outbreak (and risk of future outbreaks) of zoonotic diseases. Next it explores three specific policy options: 1. Incentivizing plant-based and cell-based ASF alternatives through government subsidies; 2. Disincentivizing intensive ASF production through the adoption of a “zoonotic tax”; and 3. Eliminating intensive ASF production through a total ban.

Dutkiewicz and Bernstein argue that all three of these measures are permissible, although we remain agnostic as to whether these measures are obligatory. They argue for this conclusion on the grounds that each measure is justified by the same sorts of considerations that justify other widely accepted public health interventions, and each is compatible with a variety of theories of justice. They then address potential objections. Finally, they discuss how our novel argument relates to extant ethical arguments in favor or curtailing ASF production and consumption.

Read an open-access, read-only version of the article.