, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 559-571,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 May 2009

Beyond the Prevention of Harm: Animal Disease Policy as a Moral Question


European animal disease policy seems to find its justification in a “harm to other” principle. Limiting the freedom of animal keepers—e.g., by culling their animals—is justified by the aim to prevent harm, i.e., the spreading of the disease. The picture, however, is more complicated. Both during the control of outbreaks and in the prevention of notifiable, animal diseases the government is confronted with conflicting claims of stakeholders who anticipate running a risk to be harmed by each other, and who ask for government intervention. In this paper, we first argue that in a policy that aims to prevent animal diseases, the focus shifts from limiting “harm” to weighing conflicting claims with respect to “risks of harm.” Therefore, we claim that the harm principle is no longer a sufficient justification for governmental intervention in animal disease prevention. A policy that has to deal with and distribute conflicting risks of harm needs additional value assumptions that guide this process of assessment and distribution. We show that currently, policies are based on assumptions that are mainly economic considerations. In order to show the limitations of these considerations, we use the interests and position of keepers of backyard animals as an example. Based on the problems they faced during and after the recent outbreaks, we defend the thesis that in order to develop a sustainable animal disease policy other than economic assumptions need to be taken into account.