Sheila Moorcroft, Research Director
20 April 2011
We may be seeing the return of tough tactics to address public health and safety issues.
What is changing?
In Capri DNA testing is set to be used to trace dogs, and thereby the owners, responsible for fouling roads, pavements and parks. The Italian island has a track record of trying to introduce a variety of strict controls including bans on the use of lawnmowers and leaf blowers, and wearing wooden clogs and bikinis in town.Meanwhile, in the USA BioPet Vet is offering communities a service to identify dogs which foul public spaces. Dog owners provide a dog DNA sample so that in the event that dog mess is a local problem – and the company claims that 40% of the waste from the United States’ 73 million dogs remains unscooped – communities can send off a sample, get it identified – at a price – then impose a fine on the owner. At least one community, in Baltimore, is considering the option.
Smoking has been banned to varying degrees in public places such as restaurants and workplaces in many countries. Australia is currently debating not only the removal of all branding from cigarette packs, but the use of gruesome images of diseased mouths etc on packs to deter smokers, or would be smokers. The tobacco industry is talking of suing for loss/ infringement of Intellectual Property. Britain, New Zealand, Canada and the European Union are considering similar bans, and watching events carefully.
Why is this important?
Pet poop and smoking are both public health issues. They both straddle the boundaries between personal decisions and actions and public responsibility and consequences. The scale of the potential dog poop problem is significant. The dog population in the UK totals about 8 million; in the USA 77 million; in Europe as a whole – including UK, 41 million. Each dog generates around 1.75 tonnes GHG emissions a year – across its whole eco-footprint. The UK dog population alone produces about 1,000 tonnes of faeces. Not only are they unsightly, they are a potential health hazard, cause of GHGs and pollution.Local communities spend significant amounts of money to clean up dog poop. In times of austerity and cuts plus more community activism, we may see more communities willing to take a tough line on such issues which can be ‘resolved’ in other ways – i.e. personal responsibility of owners. The appeal of forcing the issue may grow as new tools make transparency and trackability feasible. Just as parking and speeding tickets are a source of local revenue, dog poop may also become one. Fines for misdemeanours will be one source of income, but dog poop could equally become a feedstock for local energy generation or manure / composting for local gardens.
The use of strong images such as those being recommended for cigarette packs may be an increasingly widespread tactic to encourage compliance to other public health or safety related issues. We have become ever more inured to general warnings and campaigns about the consequences of drunk-driving, use of mobile phones and driving, overeating and or too little exercise, bullying and anti-social behaviour: tough tactics may be seen as necessary. Tough talk and tactics also appeal to politicians keen to demonstrate their leadership on issues, garner support and flex their political muscles.
But, zero tolerance rhetoric and anti crime policies moved from the USA in the 1990s to the UK and Europe. After initial popularity and claims of success in Europe, enthusiasm for the policy became more muted. The question is whether new versions of tougher approaches will stay the course.