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Risk communication, value judgments, and the public-policy maker relationship in a climate of public sensitivity toward animals: revisiting britain's foot and mouth crisis

Abstract

This paper offers some suggestions on, and encouragement for, how to be better at risk communication in times of agricultural crisis. During the foot and mouth epizootic, the British public, having no precedent to deal with such a rapid and widespread epizootic, no existing rules or conventions, and no social or political consensus, was forced to confront the facts of a perceived "economic disease.” Foot and mouth appeared as an economic disease because the major push to eradicate it was motivated exclusively by trade and economic reasons and not because of threats it posed to the lives of human beings and livestock. The British public deferred responsibility to their elected officials for a speedy end to this non-life threatening viral epizootic. The latter, however, did not have a contingency plan in place to tackle such an extensive outbreak. The appeal to an existing policy, i.e., mass eradication, as the exclusive strategy of containment was a difficult pill for the public to swallow well before the end of the 226-day ordeal. Public outcry reflected (in part) serious misgivings about the lack of effective communication of risk-informed decisions between government agents and all concerned. The government's handling of the matter underestimated concerns and values about animal welfare, public trust, and the plight of farmers and rural communities. A general loss of trust by some segments of the public was exacerbated by perceived mismanagement and early fumbles by government agents.

Public moral uneasiness during the crisis, while perhaps symbolic of growing discontent with an already fractured relationship with farmed animals and the state of animal farming today, arguably, also reflected deep disappointment in government agents to recognize inherently and conditionally normative assumptions in their argument as well as recognize their narrow conception of risk. Furthermore, broader stakeholder participation was clearly missing from the outset, especially with respect to the issue of vaccination. A greater appreciation for two-way risk communication is suggested for science-based public policy in agriculture, followed by suggestions on how to be more vigilant in the future.

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Anthony, R. Risk communication, value judgments, and the public-policy maker relationship in a climate of public sensitivity toward animals: revisiting britain's foot and mouth crisis. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 17, 363–383 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-004-5187-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-004-5187-2

  • agricultural ethics
  • animal agriculture
  • foot and mouth disease
  • risk