Trade-Offs Related to Alternative Strategies

The group had limited time to discuss trade-offs among alternative strategies to reduce external costs associated with food production and consumption. One set of trade-offs discussed was those related to large- versus small-scale production. Potential benefits of CAFOs include an economy of scale that affords more efficient sewage and manure management and, in some cases, improved control of some pathogens. For example, trichinosis from pork has been significantly reduced by the improved rodent control made possible by confined feeding operations. Potential costs include the mental health and community effects where CAFOs are located, and possibly greater prevalence of other pathogens or greater use of antibiotics among CAFOs compared with smaller-scale livestock operations.

Lessons Learned

Hoffmann summarized what she viewed as the 10 major lessons from the working group exercise:

  1. The matrix did not include some important dimensions of the problem components. In particular, it did not provide a place to include the magnitude of the impact and confidence about the magnitude of impact. It also did not provide a place to note the distribution of impacts. For example, impacts may vary by geographical location or by income, age, or social groups.
  2. The concept of externality might not be the best way to frame the analysis because it does not capture or allow expression of some major concerns in the public health community. For example, cardiovascular disease is a major cause of death in the United States. Yet, it is not clear that diet-related cardiovascular disease is an externality.
  3. Many participants of the working group felt that more consideration could be given to methods or approaches for capturing the social and individual impacts of large-scale production, for example, impacts of CAFOs on local social networks and local energy use.
  4. Focusing exclusively on adverse health impacts of food production and consumption without also looking at the health benefits may provide a distorted picture. For example, while excessive red-meat consumption can contribute to cardiovascular disease, meats also provide a high-quality source of protein. There was also some discussion on whether an examination of nutritional benefits should focus on individual foods or dietary patterns at large.

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