Time is right for vets and doctors to debate food policy

November 24, 2005

The time is right for vets and doctors to join together to examine the case for radical reform of current food policy, say researchers in this week's BMJ.

They argue that cheap food, particularly meat, is linked to reduced human health and reduced farm animal welfare, both of which are important matters of public interest that are within the professions' respective purviews.

The 20th century's drive to lower food prices has resulted in many hidden costs for consumers, animals, and society, write Caroline Hewson and Tim Lang. Doctors and vets have an important opportunity to guide the public about these costs and to encourage the relevant policymakers to make changes.

Historically, a good public health case existed for reducing the price of foods and 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 they struggle to remain in business, and with the public's health, damaged by the modern diet.

There is also considerable cultural pressure to rethink food policy. Many customers now tend to associate good human health with good animal welfare, and the health professions are being asked to encourage a dramatic shift in national diets.

Thus, the time is right for joint veterinary and medical debate about food policy, and even a shared position, they conclude.


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