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The Issue of Sustainability: How Veterinary Medicine comes into Play

The veterinary profession is one of the most overlooked and underrated professions worldwide. When we hear the word “veterinarian” we tend to think of the friendly ol’ doc’ down at the local clinic, who gives scruffy the dog his annual vaccinations and spayed the barn cat.

Oftentimes, the enormity of veterinary study goes unappreciated. Veterinarians must learn the anatomy, biology, and physiology of many species rather than just one, and the way that the diseases and parasites they carry can affect humans and other animals. Veterinarians study many different specialties and sciences. They must also provide a solution to the endemic threats that some animal diseases present.

Another issue that common practicing DVMs face is caring for the animals that produce the food we eat, including beef and dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, goats, and more. When bird flu and mad cow disease threaten local livestock, your veterinarian has a duty to report a possible outbreak and do what he must to stop it.

Veterinary scientists face an array of viral, bacterial, and parasitic diseases that are ever changing as the same aspects in human medicine. Developing medications, antibiotics, vaccinations, and pesticides that help to control or eradicate these diseases is, and always will be an ongoing process.

Global sustainability affects veterinary medicine on a very large scale. The world’s population currently tips the scale at almost 7 billion, and that number is expected to increase to around 9 billion by 2050. The obvious concern here is how to create a sustainable agriculture that can safeguard the future of our race. Starvation is a very real outcome if a sustainable food supply is not reached.

In response to the effort to avoid a global crisis, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) launched the One Health Initiative in 2008.

“One Health is the integrative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals, and the environment. Because of their expertise, veterinarians play critical roles in the health of animals, humans, and even the environment, but these roles are often overlooked or unrecognized. Nonetheless, veterinary medicine is the only profession that routinely operates at the interface of these three components of One Health” Says the AVMA’s One Health website.

The AVMA’s initiative focuses on several key points to create a balance between human and animal health. The association speculates that as the world’s population increases, so does the incidence of humans coming into contact with wild animals and the diseases they spread. Not only do Zoonotic diseases pose a threat to our species, but oftentimes as humans, we unknowingly spread disease to animals through environmental contamination.

Pandemic diseases between herds of animals have in the past, and could again, lead to a global crisis. Take the rinderpest cattle plague into consideration. This highly fatal disease spread across a wide spectrum of domestic and wild animals. During the 1800s, this disease spread like wildfire across the entire globe, killing millions of herds of food producing animals and leaving starvation in it’s wake.

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Thanks to veterinary science, the world is now 100% free of rinderpest. This is why veterinary medicine plays such a huge role in sustainability. These individuals must study and control an enormous array of diseases that span a large diversity of species, and how these diseases affect human health. They must also study the ways the veterinary medicine affect the food that these animals produce.

Antibiotics, steroids, growth hormones, and vitamin supplements are all medicinal therapies studied by veterinary scientists to create a formula in which to secure the planet’s food supply for the future. Though these traditional remedies are effective for the treatment and prevention of disease and illness in livestock, studies have shown negative outcomes in human health that are linked to the use of these substances. Consuming products of animals that have been treated with antibiotics could, over a period of time, cause antibiotic resistance in humans. Growth hormone use in food animals has also been linked to cancers in humans.

Because of this, practicing veterinarians are limited in their treatments for illness in livestock. Again, veterinary scientists are faced with a new challenge. What natural remedies can be developed and used widely to treat and prevent illness in food animals, while posing no threat to human health?

Avivagen, a corporation dedicated to producing natural health products for veterinary use, has developed a natural alternative to antibiotics; Ox C – Beta. Their products contain a concentrated form of oxidized carotenoids, a naturally occurring substance found in plants. This chemical compound has been shown to support the body’s own immune system in fighting and preventing disease. Clinical studies have suggested that Ox C – Beta can enhance production and health parameters in hogs, beef, and poultry with no negative effects on human health. Though these products are still undergoing clinical trials, scientists are hopeful that this may be the answer we are looking for.

The AVMA has also included animal welfare as part of its One Health initiative. Through numerous studies of the ethical treatment of companion and food animals, it has been concluded that a food animal’s welfare and conscious experiences may affect the quality of the product it produces. A more obvious factor is the condition in which these animals live. When food animals are living in squalid, filthy conditions with cramped living space and close contact with other animals, the incidence and spread of disease and parasites are much greater. This produces poor quality, possibly dangerous food product.

A natural life for food animals is important. It is important to give animals like cattle and poultry much space to live in as a preventative measure in the spread of disease. Grass and grain fed pasture animals prove to be healthier overall, and though the process of food production may be lengthier this way, the quality and quantity of the products these animals provide cannot be understated. This beneficial to the health of humans and animals alike.

Veterinarians take the responsibility of animal welfare upon their own shoulders. As an individual who studies animals, their health, and the effects that humans have on their health, Veterinarians become the voice of the voiceless. They must think of how animal and human health and relationships directly affect one another, and become advocates for the ethical treatment of these animals. What many fail to realize is that this is not solely for the benefit of animals, but by direct association, the benefit of humans as well.

As the direct effect that humans and animals have on one another is studied further, veterinary medicine and the standards thereof are affected in turn. Veterinarians take an oath upon entering the world of Veterinary Medicine to “use… scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.” Because of this, as the goal of sustainability is worked for, Veterinary Medicine is ever changing, as is the practice of Veterinarians worldwide.

Sustainability is an obstacle with many facets, each of which must be polished by the individuals on the front lines of science and medicine, human and animal alike.

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