Epidemics and food security: the duties of local and international communities

In Hanna Schübel & Ivo Wallimann-Helmer (eds.), Justice and food security in a changing climate. Wageningen, Niederlande: Wageningen Academic Publishers. pp. 408-413 (2021)
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Over 60% of all epidemics have a zoonotic origin, that is, they result from the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans. The spill-over of diseases often happens because humans exploit and use animals. In this article, I outline the four most common interfaces that favour the emergence and spread of zoonotic infectious diseases: wildlife hunting, small-scale farming, industrialised farming practices and live animal markets. I analyse which practices serve human food security – and thus have a non-trivial purpose – and which predominantly have an economic purpose or serve as a symbol of wealth. I conclude that many practices that increase the risk for zoonotic infectious disease outbreaks actually do not contribute to the survival and food security of humans. I make two arguments in turn. First, I argue that in cases where the consumption and use of animal products does not contribute to the food security of a population, then this population has a duty to abstain from them, since they impose a grave and avoidable risk to themselves as well as to innocent third-parties. However, some communities must sometimes rely on practices that increase the risk of emergence and transmission of zoonotic infectious diseases, because they have no healthy alternatives. That is, the food security of the local population depends on the consumption and use of risky animal products. The second argument I advance is that, in such scenarios, the international community has a duty to provide the communities concerned with alternative food options, as well as economic and educational opportunities and technologies, in order to reduce the spill-over risk of infectious diseases. Given that abstention from such practices contributes signifcantly to the public good and benefits the international community, the latter has a corresponding duty to provide local communities which abandon such practices with alternatives.

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Angela K. Martin
University of Basel


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