Happening Now

Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Human Animal Health

March 28, 2019

This month, Watson Institute Senior Fellow Alex Nading published a special issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly on the topic of “Human Animal Health.” Nading co-edited the issue with Hannah Brown (Durham University). 

Nonhuman animals are our partners in everyday life. As pets, livestock, and wildlife, animals are thoroughly embedded in practices of cultivation, consumption, and co-habitation. This has important implications for health and healing. The safety and abundance of our food are dependent on the welfare of livestock, yet concerns about the rise of antimicrobial resistance reveal potentially catastrophic intersections between intensive animal production and new forms of pathogenicity. Contact with wild and domestic animals can create opportunities for pandemic outbreaks. Meanwhile, there is growing evidence of the contribution that companion and therapy animals make to emotional and physical well-being.

In sum, living well with other animals is essential for the welfare of all species. Indeed, it is likely among the most pressing issues of our time. Nading and Brown’s edited collection presents a range of case studies that examine how different communities address this issue. Articles discuss topics including the ethics of animal euthanasia, the disease ecologies of factory farms, the investigation of plague outbreaks, and the use of animal models in biomedical research.

Public health interventions frequently emphasize reducing interactions between humans and animals. As this collection shows, however, epidemiologists, policymakers, and researchers often fail to recognize the depths, intensities, and emotional complexities of human-animal relations—relations that are in the midst of a radical reframing as climate change alters our shared habitats. Drawing on detailed case studies, the collection suggests that human and animal well-being in the Anthropocene depends at least as much upon improving interspecies connections as upon ensuring species separations.

The table of contents for the issue, with links to each article, is here. Nading and Brown’s Introduction is available open access, thanks to the support of the UK Economic and Social Research Council.