Veterinarians may lead sustainability efforts

Veterinarians have a new patient to care for: the planet.

Dr. Jonna Mazet, executive director of the University of California’s One Health Institute at Davis and a professor of epidemiology and disease ecology at the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said she got into wildlife veterinary medicine to save species.

“It’s not just the animals that we have to save, it’s really ourselves,” said Dr. Mazet. “We need you, we need the vets. You are a leader in your community. They are among the most valuable and respected scientific resources in your communities. … This trustworthy voice can help ensure that science is respected in our country and around the world so that we can prepare to keep the planet healthy. “

Dr. Mazet spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic, planet health, and how veterinarians can build respect for science during the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 session, “On the Frontline of the Environmental Crisis: Veterinarians Lead Change to Improve Planetary Health” on Aug. 21 . These and other sessions were part of the annual Global Health Summit, which this year focused on environmental health and the veterinary profession.

“We are uniquely capable of changing our environment,” said Dr. Mazet. “It is really human actions – on this earth – that cause most of all disturbances and changes in our ecosystem. We can’t just think about the problems. We need to think about the drivers of these problems, such as land use, climate change, economic development, globalization, energy generation and use, and migration. How do we live the lifestyle we want, stay healthy and protect biodiversity? “

The life points of the planet

Dr. Mazet said that while the veterinary community is committed to the one health concept – that human, animal and environmental health are intertwined – the environmental side has often been forgotten. Part of the reality right now is living in a pandemic, but the conversation must be about the health of the planet, she said.

“In a few years we will talk again and we will only talk about SARS-CoV-2 and not about the health of the planet and how we can keep the planet healthy so we don’t get the next one (pandemic). I will be devastated. Please join me, help me, ”said Dr. Mazet, adding that the world must be and can be ready for the next.

“There are probably half a million undetected zoonotic viruses that can overflow and make us sick. We can know about this and if we keep the planet healthier we will experience less of these overflows, ”said Dr. Mazet. “This is no longer rocket science. It’s not that hard to do. It is fully accessible and then we can stop these outbreaks at the source before they turn into pandemics. “

Dr. Mazet is the implementation director on the board of directors of the Global Virome Project, a program that is at the forefront of research, policy and capacity building for emerging infectious diseases. She said the program was a big undertaking.

“We need to test all mammal and bird species in the world to discover these viruses with zoonotic potential and develop strategies for better vaccination pipelines and better diagnostic pipelines, but also to educate communities about their risk and behavior,” said Dr. Mazet.

Her advice to veterinarians is to build respect for science itself in order to build political will.

“The scientists worked together. It is politics and nationalist behavior that stand in our way now and we need to get rid of that, ”said Dr. Mazet. “This virus knows no borders and knows nothing about politics, but it is fatal to all of us, and we are all at risk, and our family members are at risk, even if we are one of the happy group – the majority who are asymptomatic. So together we can make a difference, but we have to work together. We can’t just hope that things will change. We have to do all we can and I think vets can heal the planet and convince their neighbors and communities to help. “

Plastic planet

One important solution to helping the planet is reducing the amount of single-use plastic waste.

Dr. Karyn L. Bischoff, a veterinary diagnostic toxicologist at the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center who also teaches toxicology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Danielle M. Scott, who has a masters degree in environmental science and management and a sophomore at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences spoke during the “Planet in Danger: The Plastic Crisis” session on August 21 at the Global Health Summit during the 2020 AVMA Virtual Convention. The two discussed the problem of single-use plastics and how a veterinarian’s office is theirs Dependence on them could decrease.

“Plastics have become ubiquitous in our lives,” said Dr. Bischoff. “The sheer amount of plastic that is manufactured, used and thrown away each year around the world is unsustainable.”

More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, and 50% of the plastics are single-use. Every year up to 13 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean.

“While convenient products and packaging to use and dispose of are damaging to the health of the planet, we must take responsibility,” said Dr. Bischoff. “Plastic doesn’t die, it’s getting smaller and smaller.”

But what can a vet do?

Scott said her goal is to use her degrees to study the health effects of climate change and plastics on wildlife populations.

“Plastic is here to stay,” said Scott. “It brings many societal benefits in the areas of healthcare, agriculture and transport. But we have failed in our consumption, especially packaging (material) that is used briefly and then crumbles for hundreds or thousands of years. Can we watch it? “

Scott suggests that a veterinary practice take the following steps to reduce plastic waste:

  • Contact the local community to find out what is accepted in the trash.
  • Conduct a trash can audit to determine how much and what type of waste the practice is producing.
  • Identify items in the clinic that can be diverted away from landfills, such as: B. by composting paper towels.
  • Cut down on items by replacing paper towels with rags, for example.
  • Make sure recyclable items don’t end up in the trash by putting multiple recycling bins throughout the clinic.
  • Check out programs like TerraCycle, a recycling platform that uses hard-to-recycle items like exam gloves, vials, and plastic syringe caps for a fee.
  • Encourage employees to be committed and not create waste in their daily lives by bringing reusable water bottles to work.
  • Convert all paper files to electronic files and allow for paperless billing methods.
  • Appoint a hands-on sustainability coordinator to promote and manage the work.

“Whether you’re a company, an individual, a group, change has to come from every level and it should have started yesterday,” said Scott. “It is up to everyone to reverse the trajectory. Be a voice and an advocate for our planet. We only have one. “

Increasing risk of illness

According to John L. Gittleman, PhD, dean of the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia and the summit’s inaugural lecturer, these incursions are at risk of causing more disease as the human population grows and extends deeper into wilderness. He examines clinical pictures, extinction advice and connections between economy and nature conservation.

His own studies have shown that more and more infectious diseases are breaking out, he said, citing a 2008 article describing the origins of 335 newly emerging infectious diseases from 1940 to 2004.

Global outbreaks often have links to changes in the environment caused by humans, such as pollution, development, or war, said Dr. Gittleman. However, the causes can be varied and complex.

“We need to think more and more about research in inclusive, collaborative ways, like a health stresses, to expand data collection – but the right kind of data,” he said. “We need to focus more on certain taxa that are more likely to lead to infectious diseases.”

Dr. Simon Doherty, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association, sees the link between sustainability and better health for humans, animals and the environment.

In clinical use, he said, sustainability means avoiding overuse of broad spectrum antimicrobials and avoiding tail docking and beak trimming. “Always challenge us less,” said Dr. Doherty. In the role of an educator, sustainability means teaching farmers how to work their land to promote biodiversity, or teaching the public that cat and dog food can reduce waste by using protein that is unattractive to humans .

Dr. Doherty is the director of Vet Sustain, a UK-based organization founded in 2019. The aim is to reduce the waste associated with veterinary practice, to protect human health and well-being, and to promote water quality and water protection.

He also recommends that farm veterinarians add preventive medicine, herd health planning, and routine visits to their services if they haven’t already. And he believes that small animal vets can reduce pollution by understanding the environmental risks of their products and making sure customers know, for example, how fast their dog can swim after using these products.

Dr. Doherty sees the potential that veterinarians can promote sustainability by taking care of themselves and their employees.

“If we can actually improve the workplace – promote a sustainable lifestyle, promote a good work-life balance, and promote good physical and mental health – hopefully, over time, we can improve the resilience and retention of veterinarians as well “, he said.