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Last month we asked: What advice would you give Jenny, a veterinary student in her final year, who hopes to begin a career in animal production but who is greatly concerned with climate change and the impact her chosen career path may have on the environment.
16% of respondents said they would recommend Jenny chose a different career path, one where she won’t feel complicit in climate change
84% of respondents said they would advise that Jenny pursue a career in livestock production while also promoting an awareness of climate change and ways to reduce its impact on the environment
Vote in this month’s poll at: twitter.com/Vet_Record
Reader comments: When your views on climate change conflict with your chosen career path
Jenny is approaching graduation, at which point she hopes to begin a career in animal production. However, she is deeply concerned about climate change and has previously marched in protest of the government’s lack of action. When speaking with a fellow veterinary student she was told, ‘We should avoid working in animal production, its role in global warming is increasingly apparent. Personally, I’m going to work with companion animal medicine or research instead.’ Jenny is now concerned that while farm animals need care, going into this field will make her complicit in damaging the environment. As her mentor, what would you advise? (IP, November 2019, vol 41, pp 461-462).
Animals reared for meat still require veterinary care to protect them from as much suffering as possible. Unfortunately, it appears that many in the generation currently pursuing this type of career at veterinary college appear wholly unsuited to it, a world that cares little for their concerns or their simplistic notion of ethics.
Consumption of meat will continue to rise with increasing rapidity over the coming decades, as it becomes affordable to more and more people. We must remember that people eat meat because they want to, not just because they have to. What our profession can offer is education in compassion in breeding, rearing and animal slaughter.
Meat production and consumption in the UK is as irrelevant on a global scale, as are its CO2 emissions; however, the country’s attitude to how animals are treated might make a difference.
Jenny should consider campaigning for the consumption of nutritious, locally reared and slaughtered British beef and poultry, which has the highest standards of health and welfare in the world, and an end to slaughter without stunning.
Charles Cullen is a veterinary surgeon from Bedfordshire
As students aspiring to be farm vets, we do not dispute that livestock production impacts the environment; however, we do believe that this role puts Jenny in a perfect position to promote regenerative and sustainable animal agriculture.
Without truly accurate data, condemning livestock production risks decreasing the future resilience of agriculture. Even the EAT-Lancet diet – devised by world-leading researchers in nutrition, health, sustainability and policy – advises that 12 per cent of a person’s daily calorie intake should come from meat.
In developing countries or where grassland predominates, the production of plant-based foods might not provide sufficient nutrients needed in a healthy diet, and therefore livestock forms an essential food source.
The Knepp Estate, a wildlife conservation in West Sussex, are showing that rewilding could produce meat for human consumption, in the absence of apex predators. Alongside rewilding, moving to silvopasture-type systems is also an option, for instance, grazing herbivores create diverse habitats for wildlife and naturally fertilise the land. To further optimise land use, stacking animal and arable enterprises is also an option.
Jenny’s mentor should encourage her to use her passion to promote positive change from within the industry. If we turn our backs on farmers they’ll turn their backs on us, posing a risk to animal welfare, the environment and our profession.
Charlie Beane and Halcyon Hayward
Charlie Beane and Halcyon Hayward are students studying veterinary medicine at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh
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