World Veterinary Day, 2021
Environmental safety for enhancing animal and human well being
Dr K Rashbehari Singh *
Anti-Rabies Vaccination administered at State Veterinary Hospital, Sanjenthong in January 2015 :: Pix – Lamdamba Oinam
On the 24th April 2021 World Veterinary Day, 2021 will be celebrated globally on the theme of, ‘Environmental safety for enhancing animal and human well-being’ and it is an opportunity for the veterinarians to highlight their contributions for the health of animals, society and the environment.
Environmental safety is practices, policies, and procedures that ensure the safety and well-being of anyone in the immediate area. This can include safety in terms of proper waste disposal, containment and storage of potentially toxic chemicals and much more.The three primary areas where environmental safety is of particular concern are Occupational safety and health, Environmental control and Chemical safety. These areas are governed by laws at the municipal, State and federal level, and compliance with those regulations is of vital importance to many businesses.
Occupational safety and health: Many workplaces have dangerous chemicals, gases/fumes, waste and other potential threats to the health and safety of workers. Occupational safety and healthpractices are focused on environmental safety in the workplace, thereby reducing risks to employees in any given workplace.
Environmental control : Environmental controlis concerned with preventing pollution and other threats to the environment and anyone that may be affected by it. Preventing dumping of chemicals into the local ecosystem or ensuring proper management of waste materials are the examples of environmental control.
Chemical safety : Chemical safety is concerned with the safe storage, use and disposal of various chemicals. Though environmental safety certainly makes demands of businesses in terms of costs of compliance, the reality is that doing so is imperative. Some of the worst man-made disasters were caused by inadequate environmental safety measures. Businesses and organizations have legal and moral obligations to observe environmental safety practices to avoid liabilities.
Ensuring the safety of an environment is key to productivity and function in a work or research setting. A safe place to work is the key element of environmental safety. An effective workplace health and well-being programme addresses individual, environmental and organizational factors affecting workers well-being simultaneously and can have a positive impact on worker productivity and performance as well as health and well-being of employees, families and communities.
TOXIC COTAMINATION OF ENVIRONMENT
The industrial age has added millions of tons of toxic contaminants into our environment. Pesticides, heavy metals (e.g. lead, mercury), synthetic chemicals and even chemicals from household products, endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with natural hormone functions), etc. are now pervasive in our air, water and soil.
Combustion of coal produces a number of hazardous byproducts, including mercury, selenium, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and methane. These byproducts pollute the environment, exacerbate climate change and contribute to smog and acid rain. The toxins from mining coal wash downstream, poisoning animals that manage to survive in the toxic environment and tainting the drinking water of downstream communities.
Uranium causes irreversible pollution of waters and ends up in the food chain. It can contaminate aquatic ecosystems for hundreds of years, threatening downstream communities and fish and wildlife.
Oil-drilling method involving high-pressure hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is highly controversial and dangerous and linked to water contamination and methane production. Toxic chemicals increase cancer rates, cause reproductive problems, and contribute to a wide range of other health problems. These toxic materials poison the future for all life on earth.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH AND STRENGHTENING RESILIENCE TO PANDEMIC
Environmental health is the branch of public health that focuses on the interrelationships between people and their environment, promotes human health and well-being, and fosters healthy and safe communities. Environmental health works to advance policies and programs to reduce chemical and other environmental exposures in air, water, soil and food to protect residents and provide communities with healthier environments.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has clearly demonstrated that societies need to strengthen their resilience to pandemics and other emergencies. In the short term, countries are concentrating on supporting public health systems and addressing the immediate economic impacts of the crisis.
However, in the medium to long terms, enhancing the environmental health of societies (aspects of human health and well-being that are determined by environmental factors) is a key component to the economic recovery and stimulus measures that Governments are currently designing.
Limiting people’s exposure to hazardous physical, chemical, and biological agents in air, water, soil, food, and other environmental media will reduce their vulnerability to future pandemics and increase their health and well-being.
Interference with biodiversity due to deforestation, habitat degradation and fragmentation, agriculture intensification, wildlife trade, and climate change helps to create the conditions for pathogens to leap from animals to humans. It is estimated that zoonotic diseases (infectious diseases that is transmitted between species from animals to humans or from humans to animals) account for three-quarters of new or emerging diseases in humans.
The global crisis of COVID-19 is a stark reminder of the complex links between the transmission of infectious diseases and biodiversity. Biodiversity loss is associated with the transmission of a range of pathogen, while land conversion and wildlife trade bring more people into contact with potentially new diseases. Agricultural expansion and intensification give pressures on biodiversity. The homogeneity and concentration of crop and animal varieties also encourage propagation of disease agents.
Effective conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity will limit the risk of zoonotic transfer while also helping to maintain the existing ecosystem service (many and varied benefits to humans provided by the natural environment and from healthy ecosystem). The cost of disease transmission from animals to humans should be considered by the Government when risking a disturbance to natural habitats.
ANIMAL HEALTH AND ECOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS
While trying to improve levels of livestock production, there could be environmental degradation and pollution due to increase of livestock population, mismanagement and overutilization of the available natural resources and veterinary products.
Land use : If not properly carried out, the intensification of livestock production contributes to land degradation through overgrazing, reduced soil fertility, erosion and desertification. Taking into account the diverse agricultural, topographical and geographical aspects involved, proper land use planning and utilization is essential to reducing the risk of adverse ecological developments, while increasing productivity and animal disease control. Therefore, it requires multidisciplinary approach to ensure the correct planning and utilization of the land.
Pollution: Due to intensification of livestock production, there is increase in use of veterinary products such as pesticides and production of different types of waste, like manure from feedlots. The pollution or contamination of the environment, especially water supplies, due to animal wastes is an increasing problem and must be taken into care while planning to construct new animal house, especially in the industrial production systems.
Slaughterhouse wastes also need to dispose properly. Improper disposal of livestock, slaughterhouse and hatchery house wastes can lead to an increase in predatory animal species (e.g. hyenas, rural dogs etc. on land and sharks on sea).
Environmental friendly methods of applying insecticides are becoming available and they have the potential for reducing possibilities of contamination of the environment. Breeds of animals and their crosses resistant to parasitic species can be used for minimizing use of pesticides.
Changing ecological equilibrium : The reduction of a particular species in an area may have unexpected consequences of the environment through its impact on non-target species. The widespread and disproportionate use of antibiotics and parasiticides has led to the development of strains of pathogens that are resistant to the drug used and thereby complicating the control programmes.
Poisoning of coyotes (predators) to control rabies in Mexico has resulted in a dramatic increase in the jackrabbit population, which become a pest in agriculture. Comprehensive planning of animal health interventions is needed to take fully into account the possible ecological consequences.
Toxic residues in animal products : Toxic residues of drugs may be present in the edible products of animals treated with veterinary drugs. The chemicals used in livestock husbandry practices include antioxidants, antifungal agents, disinfectants, pesticides etc., and these are also a cause of public health concern.
IMPACTS OF FARMING PRACTICES ON PUBLIC HEALTH
Water pollution: Water pollution, resulting from the conventional agricultural and animal farming practices is wide reaching, affecting both surface and groundwater sources, in farm communities and those located downstream. Water quality standards for agriculture-related pollution levels include microbial pathogens, nutrient pollution and pesticides. Reducing excessive fertilizer use and using proper application and storage practices are integral to addressing water pollution.
Air pollution : A significant source of air pollution is agriculture. Use of nitrogen fertilizers and animal waste release ammonia, which when airborne, combines with combustion emissions from vehicles and industry to form particulate matter. Particulate matter can be coarse or fine, with fine matter being more harmful because it can enter the lungs and bloodstream.
Exposure to particulate matter is associated with a range of health issues, from coughing and shortness of breath to severe asthma and premature death from cardiovascular diseases. Large animal farming operations are a source of ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.
Climate health and greenhouse gas emissions : Social and environmental determinants of health including air and water quality and food security are influenced by climate change. Through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, agriculture and related activities contribute significantly to climate change. GHG are gases in earth’s atmosphere that trap heat.
The total accumulated emissions associated with agriculture constitutes approximately one-third of GHG emissions worldwide. These emissions result directly from agricultural practices and indirectly from associated activities including the manufacture of inputs (fertilizer production, which is high energy intensive) and packaging and transportation. The main forms of animal farming andagriculture related emissions are methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.
Antimicrobial resistance: Antimicrobial resistance is a significant public health concern. Antimicrobial resistant bacteria is transferred from the animals to the environment (and human) when manure from animals treated with antibiotics is applied to crops or run off from fields enters waterways. Inclusion of antibiotics in the feed of poultry and livestock as feed additive also results in the development of antimicrobial resistant bacteria.
Vulnerability of food system : Mono-cropping practices increase vulnerability of crops to pests and supports pesticide use. Pesticide harm wildlife and beneficial insects (such as pollinators), that are integral of food production. The use of chemical inputs affects soil acidity, which, in turn, affects productivity. Extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy rain and drought impact the quality and quantity of crop yields, damage agricultural lands and impact food distribution channels.
LINKAGES BETWEEN ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND HUMAN WELL-BEING
Ecosystemisa community or group of living organisms that live in and interact with each other in a specific environment. Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits to humans provided by the natural environment and from healthy ecosystems. Human well-being is highly dependent upon improving the management of Earth’s ecosystems to ensure their conservation and sustainable use.
Ecosystems provide services such as the provision of food, water, fuel and fiber, and climate regulation, on which Nations and people rely to earn income from agriculture, fishing, forestry, tourism and other activities.
For enduring economic development and improvement of human welfare, sustainable use of these ecosystem services and natural resource assets is increasingly recognized as a key factor. Well-being of poor communities is tied to the provision of ecosystem services.
Ecosystems must be protected and restored not only for the good of nature but also for the communities that depend on them. Nature-positive businesses can provide cost-effective, business-friendly jobs that stimulate the rural economy without harming the environment.
* Dr K Rashbehari Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Retired Deputy Director (Extension Education), Central Agricultural University, Imphal
and can be contacted at konjengbam09(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 06 2021.