Sustainability

It would seem that economic and social progress may not be as guaranteed in the 21st century as it was in the post-war 20th, unless, of course, you believe technology will sweep in and solve all our problems. Just as the agrarian and industrial revolutions had a profound impact on our relationship with animals, the sustainability revolution can be expected to demand similar adaptation.

Sustainability is more than just household recycling and turning off your appliances. It extends to all levels of our daily activities: our consumption of irreplaceable resources, drowning in our waste, and spending money leveraged against future value that may not materialise.

The headline challenges powering the green PR machine in Australia are climate change and water shortage, but looming large behind them are resource peaks, dwindling global food stockpiles, global population, and the economic growth model fed by our collective psychosocial addiction to buying ‘stuff’.

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I accept that, currently, sustainability may not feature high on your list of considerations when treating or feeding your pet, but it is likely to do so in the future. It could be the toxic contaminant in your cat’s food, the heavy metal in your dog’s glucosamine supplement, or the carbon impact of Brazilian beef, processed in Kansas, then shipped to your pet’s bowl in Melbourne.

From an animal welfare perspective, the ethical sustainability of eating intensively farmed eggs and meat has been on-the-nose for decades. In the future, however, increasingly stark ethical implications of global inequity may also begin to influence our decisions. We hear of collapsing fisheries, food riots in the developing world,  and the carbon costs of eating meat, but have we really started to consider how our increasingly overweight animal companions compete for finite resources?

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Suggested sustainability topics for the veterinary industry

  • Long term consequences of dependency on pharma- and agriceuticals: drug resistance, endocrine disruption, and chronic toxicity;
  • Alternatives to non-renewable therapeutics including recognition of self-limiting disease and modifying the host/parasite relationship through novel husbandry, nutraceuticals, and new biologic agents, their potential efficacy and toxicity;
  • Reinventing the conference as a low-carbon, interactive, virtual event rather than the traditional lecture at a golf or beach resort;
  • Resurgence in backyard animal production: the public health and epidemiological consequences for both man and animal;
  • Sustainability of fashion driven selective breeding in canine and feline, in particular, phenotypes demanding corrective surgeries or chronic medication;
  • Recruiting the caprine cytochrome p450 for clearing of invasive weed species;
  • Reduced reliance on industrial sources of phosphate in favour of a return to more integrated animal and plant production systems; and
  • The long term decline in supply of pharmaceuticals and medical disposables downstream of the petrochemical spring. (tongue in cheek here)

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