THE VETERINARY PROFESSION: LEADING SOCIETY
TOWARD ONE HEALTH\
Michael W. Fox, BVetMed, PhD, DSc, MRCVS
significance, value and role of animals wild and domesticated in various
cultures include spiritual (totemic and symbolic), biological and ecological
(scientific), emotional (affection/aversion) and commercial (including
consumptive) perspectives. Such diversity in perception and related treatment
is the antithesis of a unified sensibility based on respect for all life and
according all living beings equal and fair consideration---an essential
extension of the Golden Rule to temper the harmful consequences and historical
legacy of anthropocentrism’s limited and self-limiting world view.
consistency in our treatment of all beings based on the wisdom of the Golden
Rule to avoid causing harm to others which we would not wish for ourselves is
enlightened self-interest because when we harm others we ultimately harm
ourselves. For example, the sciences of ecology and molecular biology have
revealed the vital importance of bacteria and other microorganisms in the
living soil and in our digestive systems, the former being essential for plant
growth and health and the latter being intimately connected to our immune,
endocrine, neurological, cognitive and other systems and functions. The
complexities and interdependencies of living systems and life processes are
challenges to the sciences and to human understanding; and to holistic,
integrative medicine as well as to farming practices (including aquaculture and
agroforestry) and all other industries and human activities that affect these
systems and processes. Proceeding with the precautionary principle as our
compass directing us away from hubris, rationalized selfishness and denial,
human progress is a possibility and not a false hope.
the recent adoption of applied animal behavior, animal welfare science and the
One Health concept, how well has the veterinary profession helped prevent the
harms of anthropocentrism to animals and the environment and thus indirectly to
ourselves, and to what degree does it continue to serve those interests causing
more harm than good nationally and internationally?
society has intensified the conflict of interest for the veterinary profession
by first endorsing as accepted norms various extremes in selective animal
breeding ( with genetic anomalies and compromised phenotypes); in keeping wild
animals as “pets” and exploiting them for circus and other commercial purposes;
and in animal husbandry practices, especially in factory farms/concentrated
animal feeding operations that are contrary to the best interests of the
animals and to their health and well-being. These are the primary concerns and
responsibilities of the veterinary profession to promote, yet the various
animal industries and animal-owning public essentially dismiss these concerns
of veterinary bioethics (Fox 2011 ) as contrary to the accepted norms of animal
use. The underlying economic and cultural justifications of what often amounts
to abusive animal exploitation have put the veterinary profession in a double
bind. By not asserting the core principles of veterinary bioethics and animal
welfare science and ethics and being a guiding influence in society, the
profession has become increasingly marginalized by the economics of the
livestock industry. While it strives to serve this and the pet, exotic species
and other animal industries it is seeing revenues decline as the industrial
economy seeks more ‘efficiencies’ and continues to founder.
of rural families in India and other developing countries, including some who
are forced to move into urban slums, are in part sustained by an often shared
milk cow and by a few goats and chickens. Few are fortunate to have access to
grazing land, much communal land being overgrazed as per ecologist Garret
Hardin’s (1977) predicted global “tragedy of the commons”. Without urgently
needed subsidized veterinary services and supplies of animal feed and water
(rather than scavenging off garbage) this sector’s farmed animal population
(including bovids and equids used for draft work) continues to be a neglected
and significant incubator of diseases harmful to other farmed animals, to
wildlife and to the human populace locally, nationally and internationally.
These problems are being compounded by the proliferation of intensive methods
of livestock and poultry production using imported breeds. These operations
become epicenters of pollution and disease, and, along with imported varieties
of commercial crops, accelerate the loss of biological diversity as indigenous
breeds are marginalized from the agricultural system.
veterinary profession can be a significant contributor of expertise to the One
Health approach to the rising public health issues of foodborne illnesses,
zoonotic diseases including those arising from disrupted and endangered biotic
communities and wildlife species. After having played a not insignificant role
in contributing to these problems by its unquestioned service to the livestock
industry in the industrialized and developing sectors of the world, organized
government veterinary services and private practitioners are not alone in
having to make amends and rectify the ultimate human and environmental costs of
decades of animal exploitation, documented suffering and ecological harm.
must all make amends in the name of respect for all life, compassion and
justice being the foundation of a more civilized world community with a new
vision of health arising from enlightened altruism: When we care for the land,
the land will care for us, and when we care for animals wild and domesticated,
we care for ourselves because our health and well-being is a reflection of
theirs. This is affirmed by the science and ethics of One Health (Fox 2011).
A substantial percentage of the
profits of the pharmaceutical industry should be provided to support public
health and preventive medicine initiatives and also independent research in
alternative, complementary and integrative veterinary and human medicine with
especial emphasis on nutrition and epigenetics. The dominance of
conventional/allopathic practice relying on synthetic pharmaceuticals and new
generation genetically engineered biologics to treat various human and
non-human medical and psychological/behavioral conditions is facilitated by
alignment with the health insurance industry. Coupled with rising costs of
prescription drugs and limited ability of the government to effectively
guarantee drug safety and efficacy with fast-track approval of U.S. -developed
and patented pharmaceuticals and others imported from countries like India and
China with endemic problems of corruption and price-fixing, this scenario is a
major obstacle to real progress in One Health.
informs, as the contemporary healing professions will confirm, contrived
sympathy for patients is no substitute for empathy. But the burden of empathy
is too often avoided at the expense of the intuitive, subjective,
healer-patient relationship. This relationship is part of the “art” of human
and veterinary medicine. In its absence, which objective detachment
facilitates, the impersonal and impartial science of medicine becomes blind to
its own limitations. This is because the emotional, existential,
phenomenological and ecological/environmental dynamics of dis-ease etiology and
symptomatology are oversimplified and marginalized. They are reduced to fit the
moralistic, mechanistic and economistic imperialism of conventional diagnostics
and treatments in the health insurance and drug industry-dominated main-stream
human and animal care professions as predicted almost forty years ago by Ivan Illich
This anthropocene epoch with its
anthropogenic contributions to disease, climate change and loss of biodiversity
will be either one of intensifying global strife and dis-ease or transition
into what the late Thomas Berry (1988) called the ecozoic age; the age of
ecological consciousness. A new social,
or more correctly a biosocial
contract or covenant between society and animals and our shared environment is
called for based on the principles of an egalitarian respect for all life, eco-justice
and planetary CPR----conservation, preservation and restoration of both
cultural and biological diversity.
integral aspect of One Health is the saving not only indigenous crop varieties
and breeds of domestic animal, which are generally better adapted climatically
and more disease-resistant than imported varieties, but also indigenous knowledge.
tried and true methods of animal husbandry and disease prevention and
traditional medicinal treatments especially with botanicals which, as several
authors have documented, ( Lans 2011, Lans et al 2007, Mathias 2004) should not
be dismissed as being scientifically unproven and abandoned in favor of
synthetic pharmaceutical products which are often too costly if even available
in many rural communities.
veterinary and other professional organizations, multinational corporations and
governments alike, as well as the consumer-populace, have the power and
responsibility to determine what the future quality of life will be on planet
Earth. This will be more for the better than for the worse when improving the
health and well-being of animals wild and domesticated is recognized as a
trans-cultural ethical imperative. This auspicious beginning heralded by
veterinarians’ commitment to the One Health movement, (which is more than
promoting vaccinations and various pharmaceuticals); to wildlife and endangered
species conservation, and to making long overdue improvements in animal care
and well-being though a holistic, integrative approach as advocated by the
American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations and
individuals of like mind.
Thomas. (1988). The Dream of the Earth.
San Francisco Sierra Books. See also www.ecozoicstudies.org
Michael W. Healing Animals & The
Vision of One Health. ( 2011).
CreateSpace Publications/Amazon.com* See also Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics
for a Humane Society.
Albany NY, State University of New York Press. See also Fox, M.W.!1995).
Veterinary bioethics: ecoveterinary and ethnoveterinary perspectives. Veterinary Research
9-16 and Fox, M.W. (2006.) Principles
of Veterinary Bioethics. Journal of the
American Veterinary Medical Association 229: 666-667
Hardin, Garrett, (1977). The Limits of Altruism: An Ecologist’s View of Survival.
Bloomington, Indiana University Press
Ivan, (1977). Medical Nemesis: The
Expropriation of Health. New York, Bantam.
(2011). Validation of ethnoveterinary medicinal treatments. Vet. Parasitology
178 (3-4): 389-90
Lans, Cheryl et al.
(2007). Ethnoveterinary Medicine: Potential Solutions for Large-Scale Problems.
In Veterinary Herbal Medicine, eds.
Susan G. Wynn and Barbara J. Fougere, 17-32. St. Louis, Mo.: Mosby Elsevier
Mathias, E. (2004).
"Ethnoveterinary medicine: Harnessing its potential." Vet Bull
74 (8): 27N – 37N.
also: Barry S. Kipperman (2015) The role of the veterinary profession in
promoting animal welfare, JAVMA 246:
502-504, and Manuel Magalh„es
Sant'Ana, (2014). PhD Dissertation:
Why, What & How To Teach Ethics to Veterinary Students in Europe. http://repositorio-aberto.up.pt/bitstream/10216/74139/2/99742.pdf
*This book is available
from the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association as a PDF to all
veterinary students joining the Association.
After a fortuitous meeting with oncologist the late Van
Rensselaer Potter, MD,* who first coined the term bioethics to extend the scope
of medical ethics from its primary focus on professional conduct and standards
of care/practice to embrace environmental, population and epidemiological
dimensions of human health and disease prevention, I realized that a similar
application of bioethics was needed for the practice of veterinary medicine.
The vision I had shared with my friend and
colleague the late Prof. Calvin W. Schwabe, DVM,* (who was the first in
modern times to link veterinary epidemiology and comparative medicine with the
concept of One Health) was for the veterinary profession to serve as the interlocutor
between animals and
society/civilization for the benefit of both. Applied bioethics provides
the essential template for progress in One Health to be realized.
In modern parlance
this role of the veterinarian in society is one of symbiogenesis (facilitating
mutually benefiting symbiotic relationships between humans and non-humans, wild
and domesticated, which are ecologically and environmentally neutral or
enhancing) rather than one of pathogenesis as per the plethora of
agricologenic, domesticogenic and iatrogenic diseases that
afflict selected plant and animal species subjected to human
manipulation and exploitation.
This role of
interlocutor/intermediary has its roots in the shamanic and other animistic
customs, rituals and ethical traditions of past indigenous cultures and
economies, few of which survive today. One remnant, almost archaic term
survives from that epoch in Western industrial society, namely “Animal
Husbandry”. Like rare seeds and breeds, indigenous cultures need to be saved
from extinction/assimilation, their indigenous knowledge being an
invaluable resource for conservation and restoration of the ecosystems they
inhabit and where veterinary services, too often not provided by corrupt and
indifferent government agencies, are of critical importance for both
the wildlife and the domestic animals upon whom these people
rely. Planetary CPR (conservation, restoration and preservation) must
include the protection and enhancement of both cultural and biological
Rensselaer Potter (1988). Global
Bioethics: Building on the Leopold Legacy. East Lansing: Michigan State
Calvin W. Schwabe (1978). Cattle, Priests
and Progress in Medicine. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
author writes the weekly syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor, and is a
long time member of the British Veterinary Association, American Holistic
Veterinary Medical and is an Honor Roll member of the American Veterinary
Medical Association holding degrees in veterinary medicine and doctoral degrees
from London University, England in medicine and ethology/animal behavior. Email
IPAN@erols.com Website www.drfoxvet.com