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Video Series: How To Prevent Future Pandemics

First interview in the new  Thinking Out Loud series on ‘Animals and Pandemics’: Katrien Devolder in conversation with Jeff Sebo, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU, on how our treatment of animals increases the risk of future pandemics arising, and on what we should do to reduce that risk!

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4 Comment on this post

  1. Extremely relevant of course. He mentions the need for more moderate proposals alongside more radical ones like the one he puts forward (the elimination of all intensive animal farming). It sounds more like a strategic point (moderate proposals are more easily achievable in the short term and would make the radical one look a bit less radical). This makes a sense, but I suppose it is one of those cases where it be better to keep the strategy secret.
    The most obvious moderate step, to me, is taxing meat to internalise the numerous externalities of intensive farming (antibiotic resistance, animal suffering, environmental impact, public health risks). Consumers should bear the costs of such externalities. Revenue could/should then be reinvested to fund more sustainable farming practices. The main objection is that this would turn meat consumption into a luxury good as the price of meat would need to increase quite significantly to make farming more sustainable. But if part of the revenue is invested into funding alternatives to meat consumption, and thus make these more affordable than meat (many of them already are), then this would address the problem. Maybe it is right that meat is considered a luxury good.

    1. Thanks for the comments! I don’t think it’s all that important to keep the strategy secret 🙂 I think it’s interesting to make this point (now and then) explicit – it may make people more ‘tolerant’ of people who defend more ‘extreme’ views (as they then seem to acknowledge it’s fine for others to defend a more moderate view). It’s a bit like with compromises – we want some people to defend the position that is epistemically correct, and some to defend a compromise position – to slowly move the debate towards the best feasible outcome…(and it’s okay to make that explicit)
      I think the factory farms should be the first to bear to cost of the externalities you mention. When there are enough affordable alternatives (plant based food, in vitro meat…) – consumers should pay.

      1. Hi Alberto, thanks for your reply! Yes, I agree that shifts in taxes and subsidies are part of the solution, though I think that other changes are too. For example, NYC is currently eliminating procurement of processed meat, holding meatless Mondays in public schools, banning particularly harmful production methods, and so on. This all helps make progress towards further changes in our food system. Regarding keeping the strategy secret, I think that this is contextual. It might be bad for a politician to seek bipartisan support for a meat tax bill by saying, “please vote for this bill so we can make incremental progress towards ending factory farming.” But it would probably be less bad for an academic to discuss the bill on a podcast by saying, “I hope that people vote for this bill so that we can make incremental progress towards ending factory farming.” But if our interview has a bigger impact than I expect, then that would be a nice problem to have!

        1. Indeed. We should ask Katrien to give less visibility to her video interview maybe. It’s for a good cause 🙂
          I very much agree with your points. We did some work on the ethics of taxing meat here at the Centre, though it was mainly around the problem of antibiotic resistance as related to animal farming. Taxing meat had already been proposed by others with regard to the environmental impact of factory farms, it’s quite an old idea. But as far as I am aware, it has never been introduced. Maybe, even if i see it as an intermediate step, it still seen as too radical by many. Shifting subsidies is less ‘visible’ so probably more feasible in the shorter term. But I see taxes as an unavoidable next step. Thanks for your contribution!

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