A Note on Risk
Paul Ebner and Yingying Hong - Purdue Animal Sciences
The articles featured in this section (Current Research) focus on issues
related to livestock production and its potential impact on human health.
Concerns over these issues are sometimes voiced by neighbors and other
members of the community when a new CFO is planned or proposed.
Facing decisions as a policy maker regarding these issues, however, is
difficult for a number of reasons. In some cases, the science may not be
settled for a particular issue. In those cases, we have tried to provide a
description of the "state of the research", noting where there is consensus
in some areas and explaining why there is still disagreement in others.
This may be frustrating to the reader, but science is often many shades
of gray before it is black and white. The difficulty in decision-making is
compounded by the fact that there is very little information available for
a policy maker in terms of effective protection or preventive measures for
almost all issues described here. For instance, if antibiotic resistance is a
concern, there is no specific research available to indicate that requiring
a CFO be X number of feet from a neighboring residence will prove to be
adequate or inadequate in alleviating this concern.
It is also important to talk about "risk". Broadly defined, risk is the
probability of something being lost. Almost all activities or actions involve
some level of risk. There is risk in walking across the street. The risk is
easily quantifiable, and measures can be taken to alleviate or minimize
that risk (crosswalks, walk signals, looking both ways). In cases where
science is unsettled, however, sometimes risk cannot be quantified. This
can be compounded if the true preference is for zero risk. Countries have
traditionally taken different approaches to decision making in the face of
scientific uncertainties and unquantifiable risk. European countries have
often applied what is called the precautionary principle in such cases.
In adapting a precautionary principle, decisions may be made based on what could happen, even if there is a lack of
scientific consensus. In the United States, regulatory
decisions regarding livestock production (and
most other industries) have traditionally not used
the precautionary principle, but have relied more
on scientific consensus. Both are equally scientific
and equally research based. They just use different
processes for making decisions and approach risk
Finally, the issues discussed here are not restricted
to CFO-size farms (follow this link for a definition of
CFO). While this site focuses on CFOs and concerns
over the issues described here are regularly voiced
in regard to CFOs, almost all issues addressed on this
site do not discriminate based on the actual size of
the farm. Using antibiotic resistance once again as
an example, the issue is the same with a farm of 599
pigs and a farm with 600 pigs, which is the threshold
number of pigs for a farm to be regulated as a CFO
in Indiana. Moreover, not all farms use the same
practices. Currently, many large CFOs do not use
antibiotics at all or use them only to treat specific
diseases. The potential impact these farms may have
on antibiotic resistance could, in fact, be negligible compared to a farm with far fewer animals but more
frequent antibiotic use.
We will update this site as new information becomes available. In the meantime, however, we welcome any and all comments. We encourage you to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like any further information or clarifications.