4 Responses to Pandemic Ethics: Social Distancing for Animals

  • Alberto Giubilini says:

    I totally agree on this. The public health benefits of social distancing for animals would be huge,. Social distancing for animals would actually address a broader range of issues. Lower infection rates would mean less need for antibiotics, thus reducing the contribution of animal farming to antibiotic resistance. Lower animal density would mean lower environmental impact of meat and dairy production.
    As for the objection about the economic cost of this change, animal farming produces negative externalities, including for public health, that at the moment are not really factored in to the price of its products. With this kind of social distancing, meat would become more expensive than it is now. But that is because now it is too cheap: what is not factored into the price of animal products is paid by all of us in other ways, including increased risks of infectious disease. But it is those who regularly consume meat who are responsible for this. One solution could then be to make them pay for the externalities they impose on everyone, for example through a tax on meat. Revenue could then be used to subsidize the transition to the kind of animal farming advocated in the post, so as to minimize the risk that producers would be put out business.

    • Thanks Alberto! Yes I think a tax on meat would be a good idea for the reasons you mention. Also, I don’t know the figures, but currently the meat/dairy/egg industry must receive enormous subsidies. I wonder whether these could be made more conditional on the industry transitioning to more sustainable practices.
      Given the damage factory farms cause, there are more than enough reasons to abolish them. The threat of pandemics is just one of these reasons. Would be good if the current pandemic creates momentum for change…

  • James says:

    The term ‘distancing’ is a misnomer. What we are discussing is various degrees of isolation. A group of animals housed outside will continue to engage in social activity; therefore the premise that allowing animals larger living areas can negate disease transmission to the same extent as current human restrictions is unlikely to be supported by evidence, although there are clear welfare advantages.

  • Ian says:

    Thank you for this post, which reminded me, following a different response which was formulated to remain within the context of another blog entry, that ethical responses are wider than humanity, who may themselves formulate only their own response.

    That said there are some issues arising which may seem paradoxical and which themselves may warrant a response:-
    “In fact, the case for applying social distancing measures to animals, in this case farm animals, is even stronger than the case for applying them to humans.”
    What size of land area would be most suitable for the individual farm animals currently used in foodstuff production?

    “We should do as viruses do and treat animals and humans the same.”
    Would this lead to the inclusion of all animals, (farm animals, zoological species, and wild)? If so what area of land would be required to fulfill that objective?

    Natural habitat and geographical limits do seem to limit achievability. If this is so what realistic options exist for the human race to consider? Why is any consideration for the human race only? Why are communications mechanisms and intelligence measures so limiting? Why can emotional communications be so much wider in scope?

    The above questions are not intended to evoke a prioritised response from any particular viewpoint. Possibly they were more to engender further understanding and comprehension sufficient to evoke fruitful thinking.