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Vets speaking up to advance the status of animals within UK sustainable animal agriculture

15 Apr 2019 | Hayley Atkin


The veterinary profession has a crucial role to play in advocating for animal health and welfare as part of the sustainable animal agriculture agenda.

Today we've launched our position on UK sustainable animal agriculture. This sets out how approaches to sustainable animal agriculture should be environmentally, ethically, and economically acceptable for consumers, producers and wider society.

Sustainable animal agriculture can be defined as animal agriculture carried out in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability to meet the needs of the future. However, as we strive to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it is paramount that the health and welfare needs of our farmed animals are considered within this definition.

Animal health and welfare as a key sustainability objective

Achieving good animal health and welfare is all too often absent as a policy objective in the sustainable development agenda. This is despite a growing recognition that good animal welfare is an integral route to good health, productivity and therefore food for a growing population, as well as, perhaps most importantly, the moral imperative to recognise animals as sentient beings with an intrinsic worth.

It's for this exact reason that as society's leaders in animal health and welfare, the veterinary profession has a crucial role to play in advancing the status of animals within this agenda, enabling policy-makers and the public to make informed decisions on how to legislate and consume animal-derived products responsibly.

What does this mean?

BVA is calling for animal health and welfare not to be unnecessarily compromised to address human need and that, in order to be considered sustainable, agricultural systems must work towards the positive health and welfare of all farmed animals raised within them. As the Farm Animal Welfare Committee sets out, this means that:

  1. Agriculture cannot be considered sustainable if it is achieved at an unacceptable cost to animal welfare.
  2. Sustainable agriculture must take account of the fact that farmed animals are sentient individuals.
  3. Sustainable agriculture must include a duty of care for the physical and mental needs and natures of farmed animals, and should not depend on prolonged or routine use of pharmaceuticals, or on mutilations.

As vets, how can we make a difference?

89% of vets told us that they would like to play a more active role in the sustainability agenda in our recent Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey.

As an evidence-based, scientific profession there are a multitude of ways that vets can contribute to the sustainable animal agriculture agenda. This might be through your individual choices, such as eating “less and better” or taking an evidence-based approach to advising on the practical steps needed to improve existing systems. This may include advising on building design, husbandry practices, biosecurity, the responsible use of medicines and disease prevention and control mechanisms.

As ‘honest brokers’ of information relating to animal health and welfare, vets can also inform and educate the public as to the provenance, pricing and value of food, as well as dispelling common misconceptions about how production systems and new technologies impact on animal health and welfare.

In the BVA sustainability and the veterinary profession action plan, we set out how vets can contribute to sustainable animal agriculture at individual, practice and association levels. Whatever your area of work, we'd encourage you to take a look and see what positive influences you could make with just a few simple actions.

Individual behaviour creates the foundations for collective action and societal progress – as a profession, both individually and collectively, let’s take the lead.


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