Limited aggregation and zoonotic disease outbreaks

Transforming Food Systems: Ethics, Innovation and Responsibility. Eursafe Conference Proceedings (2022)
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Human and animal interests are often in conflict. In many situations, however, it is unclear how to evaluate and weigh competing human and animal interests, as the satisfaction of the interests of one group often inevitably occurs at the expense of those of the other group. Human-animal conflicts of this kind give rise to ethical questions. If animals count morally for their own sake, then we must ask in which cases the satisfaction or frustration of the interests of humans and animals in conflict situations is justified or unjustified from an ethical perspective. In this article, we argue that limited aggregation accounts represent a promising means for resolving interspecies conflicts. The reason for this is that they can appropriately consider the qualitative relevance of interests, their relative importance to each other, and the number of individuals affected. For our argument, we start from the premise that animals count morally for their own sake, albeit to a lesser extent than humans. That is, we accept the view that animals may be used, for example, as a source of food or in animal research. However, as we will show, many basic interests of animals are sufficiently similar to human interests and can thus be compared to them. Hence, they ought to be aggregated in cases of conflict with human interests. We illustrate our account and its practical implications with the real-world example of a human-animal conflict during the outbreak of a zoonotic disease among farmed animals. We conclude that, in many cases, animal interests ought to be given more importance than they currently receive, which includes distributing the burdens and risks of farming practices more fairly.

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Angela K. Martin
University of Basel


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