Human and animal health: strengthening the links

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7527.1268 (Published 24 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1268

Animal and human case for reforming current food policies

  1. Caroline J Hewson (chewson{at}upei.ca), research chair in animal welfare,
  2. Tim Lang, professor of food policy
  1. Atlantic Veterinary College, 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PE, Canada C1A 4P3
  2. Department of Health Management and Food Policy, City University, London EC1V 0HB

    EDITOR—The avian flu threat shows the importance of links between the medical and veterinary professions, but the debate needs to extend into the hidden costs of current food policy.

    Food policy is still excessively reliant on market efficiencies, by minimising price and maximising choice.1 Although the obesity epidemic has brought the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) together on the socioeconomic costs of the nutrition transition,2 the associated animal health and welfare costs are easily overlooked. In 2003 the WHO and FAO emphasised the adverse health impact of cheap, convenient, energy dense foods that are high in fats but drew back from the implications for the meats and dairy fats industries.2 3 The point was not lost on industry, however, which funded defensive economic assessments.4

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    Historically, a good public health case existed for reducing the price of foods, particularly meats. Vets have helped deliver that policy. Today, vets help farmers control the diseases and other welfare concerns that intensive farming inadvertently promotes. Doctors, in turn, deal both with farmers' health, as farmers struggle to remain in business, and with the public's health, damaged by the modern diet.

    So, should vets and doctors join together to examine the case for radically reforming current food policy? The links between reduced human health and farm animal welfare are matters of public interest that lie across and within the professions' respective purviews. Considerable cultural pressure exists to rethink food policy, not least to internalise the public health costs of industrialised food processing and distribution systems.5 Moreover, many consumers now tend to associate good human health with good animal welfare,6 and the health professions are being asked to encourage a dramatic shift in national diets.3 Thus, the time is right for joint veterinary and medical debate about food policy, and even a shared position.


    • Competing interests None declared.


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