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Is this the wake up call we’ve needed?
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  1. Helen Appelboam

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Helen Appelboam is a veterinary ophthalmologist at Optivet Referrals, Hampshire.

Have you ever tried eating insects? I can barely watch the bushtucker trials on ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!’ without gagging like a cat with a furball. I was once offered a mealworm while travelling in South Africa, but with its fat, wrinkly, squidgy body, I just couldn’t face it. I can imagine that eating a cricket might be alright, with a nice crunch to it, but to be honest I would rather have some pork scratchings. So, it is food for thought then (no pun intended) that insects are already being farmed for animal and human consumption, and are being promoted as a viable alternative protein source to help mitigate food insecurity.

I am no eco warrior but I do try to do my bit for the environment; I take shopping bags to the supermarket rather than buying new ones, occasionally ride my bike to work rather than take the car (weather permitting, I don’t do rain), and order coffees for takeaway in my reusable cup. As I sit at home furloughed while we face the biggest crisis to humanity since the Second World War, I realise these small efforts are not going to turn things around to save our planet, and we need to do much more.

Scare people with a pandemic, where they fear for their individual life rather than humanity as a collective, and suddenly we are paying attention

The timing of the arrival of Covid-19 is quite spooky. Just as we were about to destroy the planet with climate change, and ourselves and all creatures great and small with it, Mother Nature gave us a signal – one we cannot ignore. How can it have come to this – that we need a global virus outbreak to get our attention? We have been facing increasing environmental temperatures, increasing poverty and homelessness, fires and floods, the loss of more than 50 per cent of the world’s animals, and Greta! Yet still we carry on regardless. But scare people with a pandemic, where they fear for their individual life rather than humanity as a collective, and suddenly we are paying attention.

Communities are coming together to look after each other and protect the most vulnerable in society, people are consuming fewer unnecessary goods, and because we are unable to travel we are polluting less. We are also suddenly valuing the people that do the difficult and caregiving jobs, like the health professionals and key workers for whom we clap each Thursday evening, rather than valuing the economy and the business magnates. But when this is all over, will we just revert to our old ways? Will we squander this chance to turn things around for our planet? I hope that we can build on the good things that have resulted from this crisis, and we can continue to all play our small part, as well as collectively work together, to still make a difference.

There have been a few pioneering vets championing the way in making the veterinary industry more sustainable. Vet Sustain – a steering group leading the way for sustainability in the vet profession – has a brilliant and inspiring website (www.vetsustain.org) with plenty of informative blogs and ideas on how we can help to make a difference in our practices, from recycling and using suppliers with a more sustainable and ethical approach, to changing our energy suppliers and reviewing our anaesthetic protocols. We can also make changes to our own lives and to how we care for our pets, and we can advise our clients about sustainable pet care; for example, using compostable poo bags, and feeding their pets more sustainably sourced pet food.

With the human population exploding exponentially in the past few decades, so too has the pet population and the livestock population needed to feed those people and pets. But with this has come huge costs to the environment.

So, if eating insects really is to become the future, then we might as well get our pets started on this diet – perhaps then it might not seem so weird for us! ●

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