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To address climate change and animal suffering we need to envision a more compassionate food system

From Crystal Health, DVM,
April 2021

Stopping the continued growth of the ever expanding animal agricultural industry, adopting alternatives, and raising the public’s awareness about the sentience and lived experience of animals raised for food should be a priority as veterinarians.

Dr. Crystal Heath's presentation to the AVMA.

vegan veterinarians

Our institutions, such as the AVMA, should be leaders in envisioning the future of our food system and following the science to create a more compassionate and sustainable world. Our food safety system should embody the goals of One Health and address the impacts corporate factory farming has on our environment, contamination of our waterways (Burkholder et al., 2006), antibiotic resistance (Randad et al., 2021), environmental justice issues (Chamanara et al., 2020), public health (Hollenbeck JE, 2016), worker exploitation (Grabell M, 2020) and animal suffering. But in order to implement change, we have to address the unjust influence corporate factory farming has over our political (Fang, 2021), educational and regulatory institutions. These entrenched economic interests, left unconfronted, will prevent the crucial changes that need to happen.

Climate change poses an existential threat to humanity. The animal agriculture industry should take note of how other industries are planning for the future. We all need to participate in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5-2.0 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent irreversible impacts on our planet–coral reef destruction, habitat losses, floods, heat waves, and decreased crop yields. Volvo has announced that it will only produce electric cars by 2030, and GM will do the same by 2035. Recent research shows that we will not be able to achieve our greenhouse gas emissions goals without addressing our food system (Clark et al., 2020). Meanwhile, Americans ate a record setting 223.7lbs of meat in 2019. These consumption patterns are not sustainable (Aiking, 2014) and cause unnecessary harm to our environment, and the animals being raised as food.

One Health scientists have found we are experiencing an increase in emerging diseases (Jones et al., 2008). The CDC reports that 75% of emerging human diseases come from animals. As we encroach on biodiverse areas, burning rainforests and ecosystems in order to create more cropland and pasture land to feed livestock we are putting ourselves at risk of future pandemics as well as destroying plants, habitats and ecosystems that keep our planet habitable.

Corporate factory farms need to open their doors to researchers to perform infectious disease surveillance studies, more widely and more frequently. Results of those studies need to be made public so consumers can make informed choices, and policy makers can make informed decisions regarding regulatory issues. Former chief veterinarian of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, Dr. Parthapratim Basu is quoted as saying in a New York Times article regarding public health investigators lack of access to information regarding factory farm practices, “when it comes to power, no one dares to stand up to the pork industry, not even the U.S. government” (Rictel, 2019). It is essential the AVMA use their influence to advocate for increased infectious disease surveillance and transparency on our factory farms.

As veterinarians, we know that the animals raised for food experience emotional and physical pain. We have expanded our protection and concern to dogs and cats, and we consider their pain and suffering as an integral part of our practice. When we consider food safety, we should also consider the safety of the individuals who become our food, who have a lived experience deserving of our compassion and consideration. Stopping the continued growth of the ever expanding animal agricultural industry, adopting alternatives, and raising the public’s awareness about the sentience and lived experience of animals raised for food should be a priority as veterinarians. Raising awareness that each individual we confine and kill is an individual experiencing the world from their own perspective, who can suffer both physical and emotional pain.

We need to advocate for the ending of corporate influence over our institutions and support policies that help farmers transition from animal-based farming to plant-based farming, support moratoriums on the construction of new factory farms and slaughterhouses. We need to reduce our reliance on animal agriculture, but while animal agriculture exists, we need to advocate for policies that ensure the 5 freedoms for each individual animal, that protect public health, and protect our environment.

The AVMA needs to listen to the real stakeholders–the animals, ecosystems, exploited workers and marginalized populations who are suffering from the devastating effects of corporate factory farming. All of the greatest advancements in humanity came from those in power exercising compassion for others who had been historically marginalized and exploited. As a powerful veterinary institution, the AVMA has the ability to create real needed change, address the climate crisis, animal suffering and lead us into the future by following the science and promoting compassion for all species.


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