Missed Opportunities? Covid-19, Biosecurity and One Health in the United Kingdom

Front Vet Sci. 2020 Aug 28;7:577. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2020.00577. eCollection 2020.


Whatever we read about Covid-19, the word unprecedented is not far away: whether in describing policy choices, the daily death tolls, the scale of upheaval, or the challenges that await a readjusting world. This paper takes an alternative view: if not unpredictable, the crisis unfolding in the United Kingdom (UK) is not unprecedented. Rather, it is foretold in accounts of successive animal health crises. Social studies of biosecurity and animal disease management provide an "anticipatory logic" - a mirror to the unfolding human catastrophe of Covid-19, providing few surprises. And yet, these accounts appear to be routinely ignored in the narrative of Covid-19. Do social studies of animal disease really have no value when it comes to guiding and assessing responses to Covid-19? To answer this question, we describe the narrative arc of the UK's approach to managing Covid-19. We then overlay findings from social studies of animal disease to reveal the warnings they provided for a pandemic like Covid-19. We conclude by reflecting on the reasons why these studies have been paid minimal attention and the extent to which the failure to learn from these lessons of animal health management signals a failure of the One Health agenda.

Keywords: COVID-19; One health; animal health; biosecurity; social science.