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Industrial Animal Farming and COVID-19
The threat of zoonoses (i.e., human infectious diseases transmitted from animals) because of industrial animal farming may be receiving less attention in society due to the putative wildlife origin of COVID-19. To identify societal responses to COVID-19 that do address or affect the risk of future zoonoses associated with industrial animal farming, the literature was screened for measures, actions, proposals and attitudes following the guidelines of a scoping review. Forty-one articles with relevant information published between 1 January 2020 and 30 April 2021 were identified directly or indirectly via bibliographies from 138 records retrieved via Google Scholar. Analysis of relevant content revealed ten fields of policy action amongst which biosecurity and change in dietary habits were the dominant topics. Further search for more relevant records within each field of policy action retrieved another 8 articles. Identified responses were furthermore classified and evaluated according to groups of societal actors, implying different modes of regulation and governance. Based on the results, a suggested policy strategy is presented for moving away from food production in factory farms and supporting sustainable farming, involving the introduction of a tax on the demand side and subsidies for the development and production of alternative meat.
Since Covid-19 presumably originated from wildlife trade on a wet market, other risk factors for zoonotic disease emergence like intensive livestock farming might have been receiving less attention. Therefore, the purpose of the present investigation is to clarify whether Covid-19 has stimulated societal reactions with respect to the zoonotic risk posed by factory farming and to discuss possible implications for further action. Specifically, the research questions addressed herein are which actual and proposed responses the Covid-19 crisis has prompted in society, aimed at prevention of zoonotic risk or affecting zoonotic risk of industrial animal farming; moreover, which topics the responses encompass, and which societal actors are involved. Because of the novelty of any Covid-19 related topic and the exploratory focus of the study, the approach of a scoping review was chosen to reveal recommendations and proposals as well as actual responses including policies, measures, behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs in available literature ever since the onset of the pandemic roughly one and a half years ago (July 2021). After a description of the methodological approach, the results section will present the identified proposed and actual responses, (i) classified into thematic categories corresponding to potential fields of policy action, as well as (ii) arranged according to groups of actors involved in the implementation of the responses, i.e. government, business, and civil society (i.e., consumers), implying different modes of governance and diverse mechanisms by which possible changes could be effectuated. In the discussion section, findings will be critically assessed with respect to the potential of the (proposed) responses to be sustained and efficacious. Finally, a scenario will be outlined of suggested appropriate policies in the post-Covid-19 era, and limitations of this study will be addressed.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Identification of Research Questions and Relevant Articles
2.2. Selection of Literature, Data Extraction and Summary of Results
3. Current Results
3.1. Identification of relevant literature and thematic categories as fields of action
A query in Google Scholar yielded 138 hits from which 7 duplicate entries were excluded. Two further commentaries that appeared as non-peer reviewed blog posts and another two potentially relevant studies that described results from before the onset of Covid-19 were not allowed for. Another 92 records were ruled out due to irrelevance, 31 of which because, even though dealing with zoonotic diseases like Covid-19 as main topic, they either lacked responses such as recommendations, policies, measures, behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs, or were without reference to factory farming, or both. The remainder of the excluded articles embraced topics outside the scope of the research questions. In total, 35 relevant publications were located as well as 6 additional articles from their bibliographies, and so a total of 41 publications was arrived at, that constituted the core literature of the present investigation. Subsequent scrutiny of the core articles for relevant content gave rise to the delimitation of 10 thematic categories as (potential) fields of policy action within which responses to Covid-19 with respect to the zoonotic risk of industrial animal farming were identified: 1) “Biosecurity and animal health”, concerning measures of disease prevention on farms and surveillance of emergence and spread of infectious diseases (relevant content of 20 articles of the core literature); 2) “Dietary changes”, related to dietary responses and recommendations aimed at curbing consumption of animal products, specifically from factory farming (relevant content of 11 core literature articles); effects related to direct constraints of the crisis, e.g. change of dietary patterns due to lockdowns, were regarded as direct consequences rather than societal responses and therefore not considered; 3) “Alternatives to animal products”, i.e. options to substitute animal products, most importantly conventional meat from factory farming by novel protein sources whose production is associated with no or lower zoonotic risk (10 relevant articles); 4) “Prohibition of factory farming”, as well as closure of farms as radical approach (7 articles); 5) “Taxation on animal products”, i.e. levies to discourage consumption of meat and other animal-based products (5 articles); 6) “Economic regulation of factory farming”, including investments and divestments, and taxation of the production side (5 articles); 7) “Support for sustainable farming”, as alternative to factory farming (5 articles); 8) “One Health approach”, a holistic and global scope of action of essential importance for prevention of zoonotic diseases (5 articles); 9) “Ban on wildlife trade”, a response potentially inversely correlated with factory farming (4 articles); and 10) “Human population degrowth”, i.e. controlling human reproduction resulting in a decline in population (1 article). The most important categories as assessed by the number of included records were “Biosecurity and animal health”, “Dietary changes”, and “Alternatives to animal products”. Additional specific search in each of the categories for records containing new information beyond the core literature afforded another 8 relevant articles, of which three were identified in “Alternatives to animal products”, two in “Biosecurity and animal health”, and one each in “Dietary changes”, “Prohibition of factory farming”, and “Support for sustainable farming”. In the following, identified responses are described in detail according to distinct societal actor groups that are involved in their (potential) implementation.
3.2. Governmental Responses
3.2.1. Legal Regulation
3.2.2. Economic Regulation
3.2.3. Regulation by Informational Instruments
3.2.4. Intergovernmental and Supra-National Governance
3.3. Business and Private Sector
4. Discussion on Industrial Animal Farming and COVID-19
4.1. Thematic Fields for Policy Action
4.2. Actors’ Roles
4.3. Future Perspective
4.4. Limitations and Strengths
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit deemed of wildlife origin, has stimulated a spectrum of responses affecting mitigation and prevention of zoonotic risk associated with industrial animal farming. These include suggestions for action and policies by experts and scholars, measures such as laws, as well as consumers’ behaviours, attitudes and beliefs pertaining to ten identified fields of (potential) policy action and (to be) implemented by distinct stakeholders. In the present review, strengthening biosecurity and measures to curb consumption of animal products were found the prevailing topics, and governmental regulation seems to assume a key role for efficient future policies. It is improbable that consumers will, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce the intake of animal products from industrial farming on a large scale. Therefore, one feasible way to sustainably curb the zoonotic risk of factory farming can be an earmarked zoonotic risk tax on the demand side, revenues of which are to be deployed for subsidising sustainable farming and research on and development and marketing of alternative meat, preferably cultured meat. This long-term strategy, however, must be pursued along with enhanced efforts to guarantee that biosecurity systems work well in industrial farms as a strategy for short-term risk reduction. Recent avian influenza outbreaks due to the emerging subtype H5N8 in poultry farms around the world leading to the first human infections in Russian farm workers by end of 2020  are just a further reminder that action is urgently needed. Facilitated by disease outbreaks in crowded farming conditions, genomic mutations and genetic exchange with other strains could endow a pathogen with the capability to efficiently spread also in humans. If combined with case fatalities in humans of the H5N1 avian influenza virus (i.e., an estimated 14–33% ), the ensuing pandemic would be one of unprecedented scale. Understanding COVID-19 as a signal for a sustainable change in our food system and for timely action could spare humanity such a calamity.
The entry is from 10.3390/su13169251
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