New technology must be embraced post-Brexit, and IT which monitors animal health and welfare has its place, but it must not replace skilled veterinary professionals, says BVA president Simon Doherty.
Sustainability is a hot topic.
With the UN predicting global consumption of animal-derived food will double by 2050, the need for more sustainable ways of producing meat and dairy products has never been greater.
We know many farmers have been moving towards making their businesses more sustainable and the issue is one which has been discussed among the farming community for a long time.
It’s widely accepted that improving efficiency within herds, using less antibiotics, making more efficient use of natural resources and looking at new technologies to improve production and lessen the environmental impact of farming practices are all important areas to look at.
The new BVA position touches on all of these, but we also talk about how to ensure animal health and welfare is kept front of mind in any plans for animal agriculture after Brexit.
So what do we mean by Sustainable Animal Agriculture and how can vets support farmers to do this?
Our new position aims to look at ‘the bigger picture’, taking animal health and welfare into consideration when exploring emerging trends, sustainable resource management, higher health and welfare schemes and innovative whole farm management systems.
As part of this, we talk about how vets can work with farmers to achieve more sustainable practices.
Essentially, it is back to basic animal husbandry. Look after animals well and they will be more productive.
The knock-on effect of this is healthier and happier animals tend to lead to lower antibiotic use, meaning less antibiotics in the slurry, on the land and therefore, less of an environmental impact.
A lot of this can be supported by good planning.
Vets can create farm health and welfare plans to help prevent and control disease, which will ensure production efficiency and maximise welfare. They take a ‘3R’s’ (replacement, reduction, refinement) approach when considering management practices or adapting particular animals to the farm environment.
The new position specifically recommends animal welfare should not be compromised to address human need, drive production or reduce the ecological footprint of animal agriculture.
An example of this would be in new innovative methods to monitor animal health and welfare.
Embracing innovation in the right way is at the core of this recommendation.
While BVA recognises the role of these technologies, we would encourage farmers not to use automatic systems to replace skilled veterinary keepers and professionals when it is appropriate to have them.
The key role veterinarians play from farm to fork means they are in a prime position to advise on ways of working which deliver both environmental benefits and maintain and improve the lives of the animals within the production system.
Some of the ways we can do this as an individual farm vet could be to:
As ever, the vet-farmer relationship is key.
If we can work together to plan for and deal with problems before they happen, we can create a farming landscape that is more efficient, has less of an impact on natural resources and the environment and has high animal welfare at its core.
Simon can be found tweeting at @simondocvet
To read the full BVA position on sustainable animal agriculture, click HERE.