Combatting Zoonotic Diseases
During the twentieth century, the agricultural domain was dominant over the public health domain in dealing with zoonotic diseases in production animals in the Netherlands.
This context is more important for understanding social problems associated with zoonoses than the faltering ‘One Health’ collaboration between the disciplines of veterinary medicine and medicine. This was one of the findings of Floor Haalboom’s doctoral research conducted at the Julius Center. She studied the historic links between the domains of agriculture and public health and the disciplines of veterinary medicine and medicine in dealing with zoonoses using four examples of zoonotic disease in product animals: bovine tuberculosis (1898-1956), influenza (1918-1957), food contamination due to the Salmonella bacteria (1951-1978) and ‘mad cow disease’, i.e. BSE (1988-2001). The reason for this doctoral research was the outbreak of Q fever in the Netherlands in the years 2007-2011.
Agriculture and public health
The existing historiography on zoonotic diseases strongly emphasizes the public health aspects of these illnesses and devotes little to no attention to the economic aspects. Haalboom also explicitly examined zoonotic diseases as ‘agricultural problems’ compared to their status as ‘public health problems’. This analysis showed that the handling of zoonotic diseases in production animals in the Netherlands has, surprisingly, been continuous throughout the twentieth century. This continuity lies in the dominance of the agricultural domain in the structuring and initiation of the fight against zoonotic diseases in production animals. Historically, the public health domain was less strongly organized and, throughout the twentieth century, had only secondary control over the safety of products, not over disease and the health with regard to live cattle.
The One Health movement argues in favor of more intensive collaboration between various disciplines with a focus on health and disease in people, animals and the environment. This plea is primarily aimed at the disciplines of veterinary medicine and medicine. The doctoral research conducted by Floor Haalboom explores the history of this plea. Throughout the twentieth century, veterinarians and physicians appear to have pleaded for more cooperation, while at the same time joining forces when necessary to deal with specific zoonotic diseases. But this collaboration did not prevent a clash between the domains of agriculture and public health. Haalboom therefore also demonstrates that the emphasis of One Health on collaboration between the disciplines will not solve the more fundamental political problems associated with zoonotic diseases in production animals.