Accueil > Livestock and Health: Mapping the Antimicrobial Resistance Controversies

OMCO 2050 - Livestock and Health: Mapping the Antimicrobial Resistance Controversies

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Spring 2018-2019

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

In the context of an increasing world population, growing scarcity of natural resources, and accelerating climate change, all marked by a sense of urgency, livestock is increasingly becoming a matter of controversies. This happens through polarized debates portraying the sector as an important user of natural resources, emitter of greenhouse gases, source of pollution, driver for the emergence of antimicrobial resistance or risk of pandemics. On the same token, the role of livestock is also often brought forward with regards to global food security, poverty alleviation, human health and nutrition, climate change mitigation, and resilience to crises. The numerous layers of these controversies and the composition of arguments occurring there, demands a systematic study to help us see through. We propose to study these controversies with a set of methods and resources developed by scholars, engineers and designers working at the medialab at Sciences Po and in collaboration with the Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank. The goal of this project course is to teach you investigative methods designed to help you learn how to navigate socio-technical controversies, that is fraught with uncertain scientific questions and marked by high-stakes political decisions for nearly all countries. In many ways, the technical solutions to fend off AMR are known but a set of interests are keeping these solutions from being implemented. Background Livestock is one of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture, and projected increases in animal protein demand and consumption are likely to maintain the status quo for the coming future, particularly in low- and middle-income economies. Since the early 1960s, meat consumption has grown very fast and, currently, the total biomass of animals raised for food outweighs by far that of humans. This situation comes with profound transformations of the food-producing sector in response to our growing appetite for meat. While much of this has led to rapid expansion of modern intensive production systems, more traditional and diversified systems continue to exist. The current poor understanding of how livestock could contribute to the needs for sustainable food systems may have its roots in this diversity of the sector, but also in the stark contrast between the rhetoric that at times dominates in the developed world and the high expectations in opportunities for developing countries. This, along with the difficulties for public policy to comprehensively address the sector, has fueled a growing debate and contributed to a diversity of visions on what the future of livestock should look like. Integrating these different views has been challenging so far. More profoundly perhaps, the debate comes close to radically diverging visions of the world. The domestication of most animal species happened some 60 to 80.000 years ago and built a sustained relation that has played a critical role in defining humanity. The benefits from domestication have been significant for humans, including by covering dietary needs, increasing labor power, providing security and protecting from the environment. In exchange for such benefits, humans had taken on responsibility to protect domesticated animals, providing them with shelter, feed and water, health and security. As it happens, humans posed themselves as caretakers of animals to counterbalance their domination for the wellbeing of humanity. Since the 1980's however, an anti-specism movement has gradually emerged, originally formalized by the philosopher Peter Singer, that questions the ancestral bond between humans and animals, advocates for animal liberation, and condemns any form of domestication. Movements inspired by anti-specism are rather successful globally, especially in urban populations of developed countries. Objectives The complexity of the issues at stake, the multiple junctions between science and society, the broad lack of awareness and understanding of modern food systems, and a loosen social contract between humans and animals epitomize the controversies around livestock. The course will look at one crucial question that has become an intense bone of contention over the past few decades: antimicrobial resistance (AMR). In order to understand the centrality of AMR, it will deploy the controversy in a series of issues that are as many questions that proponents and opponents of AMR have created to make livestock antibiotics treatments a genuine political questions: - Growth and equity. Livestock contributes to the livelihoods of an estimated one billion poor but is also business for factory farming. Questions include: livestock and livelihoods, livestock and gender equity, livestock and social equity, animal and human welfare, competitiveness of smallholders in ensuring food supply, and livestock contribution to economic growth opportunities. - Nutrition and health. Livestock play multiple positive and detrimental roles in human nutrition and health. Questions include: emerging infectious diseases, health security, under-nutrition and obesity, malnutrition and social sustainability, the multiple burdens of livestock diseases, and demographic change and implications for the livestock sector. - Environment and climate change. Livestock are the main source of agriculture emissions of greenhouse gases, but also the only option for livelihoods in some territories. Questions would include: greenhouse gases emissions from the livestock sector, changes in land use, deforestation, climate change impacts on livestock, and ecosystem services from livestock. The overall objective of the project is to explore and visualize these techno-scientific debates around livestock. In practice, this will be done by coordinating medialab, the leading digital social sciences lab at Sciences Po, with scientific and technical support from the World Bank.


  • COINTET, Jean-Philippe (Associate professor)
  • LEPINAY, Vincent-Antonin (Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Sciences Po)

Pedagogical format

The orientation of the course is that of a lab: we know the general direction that animates us but we invent collectively how we can collect, analyse and interpret data pertaining to livestock and health. If you are looking for a course where an expert (force)feed you expert knowledge, this is probably the wrong choice for you. We study experts and we deconstruct and analyse their knowledge and their influence on public policies. By the end of the course, you will also have become quite knowledgeable about livestock and health, but you will have developed a much stronger skill: the ability to approach current controversies with a toolkit and a series of methods.

Course validation

The course is project-based so we will work collectively towards writing a white paper. Every week students (individually or in small groups) will work on documents and on related searches they will conduct to map the controversies. Every week (at times every other week), students will make very brief presentations of their progress, we will discuss collectively what has been achieved and what still needs to be done. The skills that will be taught are both individual (e.g. learning how to build a corpus and to analyse it) and collective (e.g. organizing a short term research project). The evaluation of students work will be based on the weekly presentations and discussions (40%) as well as the quality of contributions to the white paper (40%). Students will also evaluate each other at the end of the term (20%) using a zero sum rule.


We will read both texts from social scientists who have studied similar controversies and the many documents produced by experts of livestock and health. Additional requested information: (eg ≤ to 3 hours, 3 to 6 hours or > to 6 hours): Expect on average 3 to 6 hours a week.

Required reading

  • 143 pinned opinion pieces related to livestock.
  • Samir Suweis et al., 2015. Resilience and reactivity of global food security. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112 6902
  • Samuel S. Myers et al 2017 Climate Change and Global Food Systems: Potential Impacts on Food Security and Undernutrition. Annual Review of Public Health, 38 259
  • HLPE. 2016. Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome
  • Petr Havlík et al., 2014. Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions. PNAS, 111 10

Additional required reading

Latour, Bruno. 1986. Science in Action. How to Follow Scientists in Society. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press