246268 What should we eat? Food choices and our obligations to the public's health

Monday, October 31, 2011

John Rossi, VMD, MBe , Department of Community Health and Prevention, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, PA
Samual Garner, M Bioethics , Office of Biotechnology Activities, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
Our production and consumption of animal products has significant implications for the public's health. 40 percent of the earth's surface is devoted to agriculture, and nearly 70 percent of that is for livestock grazing and feedstock. Animal agriculture makes the largest contribution, from a single source, to greenhouse gas emissions—a full 18 percent. It produces unregulated wastes that imperil the health of rural communities. Animal agriculture has also catalyzed the growth of zoonotic superbugs while consuming an excess of water, oil, and crops to the detriment of populations starved for these same resources. Agricultural run-off has spawned upwards of 400 dead zones in coastal waters world-wide, totaling 245,000 square kilometers, suffocating aquatic ecosystems and depriving those same communities of an important source of food. And finally, the type and amount of animal products we consume is linked with the growing burden of chronic disease and preventable death, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and major cancers. Given its highly significant implications for individual, environmental, and global health, we argue that animal agriculture should be a focus of discussion in public health ethics. Not only do animal agriculture's detrimental effects raise questions about personal obligation and responsibility, they raise questions about possible ethical parallels between dietary change and other behaviors mandated in the name of the public health, for example vaccination. Finally, we suggest that the relevant moral community in public health ethics should include nonhuman animals, a recognition that only increases the ethical importance of modern animal agriculture.

Learning Areas:
Environmental health sciences
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Protection of the public in relation to communicable diseases including prevention or control
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
1. Evaluate data on animal agriculture’s impact on consumption of resources (e.g. water, oil, crops, land). 2. Evaluate data on animal agriculture’s impact on pandemic disease and other zoonoses. 3. Evaluate data on the impact of our food choices on individual human health. 4. Evaluate and compare dietary public health obligations and vaccination public health obligations. 5. Identify and analyze conceptions of moral status and its relevance to human and nonhuman public health.

Keywords: Animal Human Health Connection, Bioethics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am trained in veterinary medicine, bioethics and philosophy, with professional experience in veterinary practice, academic bioethics and food and drug regulation. I have previously published on various topics relating to animals and ethics.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.

See more of: Issues in Public Health Ethics
See more of: Ethics SPIG