1 December 2019

One World, One Health: An Integrated Approach to Daily Life

Jennie Lane, DVM, MPH

& Jonna Mazet, DVM, MPVM, PhD
East Africa Field Veterinarian
& Executive Director
One Health Institute
University of California-Davis

Human, Animal and Plant Health Must be Addressed Together

By Jennie Lane, DVM, MPH and Jonna Mazet, DVM, MPVM, PhD

Conventional, organic or biodynamic? Plant-based or omnivore? Western and/or Eastern medicine? So many choices. And so much conflicting advice and opinions about how to eat, what type of foods to buy, from whom to seek medical advice and so on.

The One Health approach, which recognizes the interconnectedness of people, animals, plants and the environment, is a way to help navigate the complex, challenging and sometimes polarizing world we live in today. Championed by veterinarians, physicians, ecologists and other professionals around the world, central tenants of One Health include listening to diverse perspectives, collaborating across disciplines and applying evidence-informed decisions to achieve optimal health outcomes for people, animals, ecosystems and our planet. Endorsed around the world as a strategy to address complex challenges like sustainable food production, a One Health approach is useful in our daily life, too.

Examples of challenges at the interface between people, animals and the environment surround us. Infectious diseases that originate in animals but can infect humans, such as rabies, plague and Ebola, are common examples. Another is food safety and the risk of contracting a foodborne illness like Salmonella or E. coli from foods such as undercooked poultry and fresh produce. In summer, a pond or lake near you may be closed because of an overgrowth of toxic algae that can cause health problems for wildlife, pets and people. The more you look, the more you will find examples calling for a One Health approach in everyday life. As John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Most of us have heard about antimicrobial resistance, a growing problem that occurs when infectious bacteria are no longer susceptible to antibiotics. Once simple-to-treat infections can now become life-threatening. The causes of resistance are multifactorial; occur at local, national, and global scales; and create issues for human, animal and ecosystem health. Solutions need to consider many different stakeholders and include sound scientific approaches. You can be part of these solutions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has tips on how to be more aware of appropriate antibiotic use. Always ask your doctor if an antibiotic is necessary. Make sure you dispose of all medications, including antibiotics, appropriately so they do not inadvertently enter the environment, where they can contribute to the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Ask your pharmacy or physician about disposal facilities or check government websites, such as that of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, on appropriate drug disposal locations.

Our earth is home to diverse ecosystems that support vast biodiversity; preserving them is critical to maintaining life on our planet. For example, producing enough nutritious food for our world’s growing population in a changing climate is one of humanities most pressing challenges. By 2050, our global food system will need to feed between 9 and 10 billion people. A food system includes the environment, people, inputs, processors, infrastructures and institutions as well as the activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food. It also includes the output of these activities, such as socioeconomic and environmental outcomes.

Ironically, our food system and modern agricultural practices have been accused of contributing to biodiversity loss, climate change and non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Conversely, modern agricultural practices – initiated by the Green Revolution and augmented by the application of fertilizers, pesticides and biotechnology, produce vast amounts of food, underpin the fabric of farming communities around the world and economically advance many nations. Since 1970, food crop production value has increased by 300 percent. But this amazing accomplishment has come at an expense. Globally, 23 percent of agricultural land is degraded and has lost some of its growing potential. In some geographies, our pollinators like honey bees, upon which the majority of our food crops rely, are disappearing at alarming rates.

Collectively, we must all be part of a sustainable food system. Universities, agricultural and related industries, policymakers, public interest groups, consumers and other stakeholders are all welcome at the One Health table. As an individual, be inquisitive about where and how your food was produced. Become an informed consumer. Start by picking one food item you buy and see if you can find a local producer that uses sustainable agricultural practices or promotes environmental health otherwise. Recognize that judicious use of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics might be well warranted. Some producers might not be certified organic, but they still utilize organic or regenerative principles. Conventional producers may be looking for ways to maximize biodiversity on their farms. We should try to understand different perspectives and make decisions that mesh with our own priorities, needs and values using the One Health approach.

Large- and small-scale organic and conventional farmers, researchers, ecologists, private companies, industries, indigenous communities, consumers and others need to come together to recognize the importance of native ecosystem function in order to discover and share sustainable solutions and prioritize restorative approaches for the sake of all. Identifying collaborative platforms, where all stakeholders are heard and respected, may help identify science-informed solutions utilizing the One Health approach. For many of our world’s complex challenges, there will be multiple solutions customized to geography, weather patterns, economies, human capacity, cultural practices and more. But we still must work together to achieve optimal outcomes.

Everyone has a role to play. How will you apply the One Health concept to your daily life?

Jennie Lane, DVM, MPH is an East Africa field veterinarian with the One Health Institute. Jonna Mazet, DVM, MPVM, PhD is executive director of the One Health Institute at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, USA.

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