The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has recently declared that we are living in a “Pandemic Era” in which the number of diseases transmitted among animal species including humans, and the speed at which these transmissions emerge, is increasing. Such diseases can potentially cause future pandemics that will severely impact our societies and economies. Industrial agriculture and livestock production are among the key drivers behind the Pandemic Era. These agricultural industries are currently adapting in the face of new pandemics. In this critical social sciences project, a team of geographers will conduct fieldwork among farmers and poultry meat producers, regulators at state and supranational levels, industry executives etc in Denmark and Norway. This project will investigate, within a political ecology framework, how past and ongoing avian pandemics affect poultry farmers, slaughterhouses and processing plants in Norway and Denmark. The project will also look at how production of poultry meat changes to adapt and, possibly, prevent the next pandemic. We will pay attention not only to the humans who produce and consume poultry, but also to the migratory birds present in these countries during parts of the year and to the myriad of microbes present and emerging in human and non-human bodies. As such, we will attend to the relations between the different species embroiled in industrial poultry production.
The project aims at developing new concepts and theories to understand the complex relationships implicated in the production and emergence of diseases with pandemic potential and the variegated responses from farmers and producers to adapt to the Pandemic Era.
Future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, and destroy more lives and economies unless there is transformative change in high-risk activities like globalized industrial livestock production, warn leading global experts associated with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Our objective is to develop a pioneering political ecology approach to illuminate the role and impacts of industrial meat production in the context of this “Pandemic Era”. Amongst numerous recent pathogenic outbreaks, a devastating global avian pandemic is unfolding, and European countries and industries are not exempt. Industry actors attempt to adapt and remain profitable, yet they face an unruly nature, from wild birds to bacteria, as well as the shifting interests of States and broader public. This project will be the first political ecology investigation of these unfolding developments. We identify Norway and Denmark as unstudied cases where we will conduct a fieldwork-based study of responses to and framings of the drivers and impacts of pandemics among regulators, industry leaders, farmers, and processing plant workers. Building upon recent calls for interdisciplinary social science that is empirically grounded yet theoretically ambitious enough to capture the complex relationships between industrial meat production and the Pandemic Era, this project will mobilize the conceptual toolkits of political ecology, geography and agrarian studies to push this research frontier. Conceptualizing industrial poultry production as a particular organization of society, nature and interspecies relations in globalized capitalism, we seek to understand how past and ongoing pandemics reshape the entanglements of these aspects and the futures of all species embroiled in it. We will thus more fully illuminate the complexity of the Pandemic Era to enable the required transformative change.