Meet Ruth: Head of Veterinary Programmes, Benchmark
"As influencers we have a strong role to play in societal leadership and advocacy"
When did you first know that you wanted to be a vet?
I was drawn to animals as a child through will rather than circumstance and they formed an important and quite all-consuming feature of my childhood. For many years we spent family holidays on a sheep farm in Devon, and I do believe that the future was set out during those early days spent ‘helping’ out on the farm.
Can you describe your role?
I’ve had a varied role, first working for Oxford-based FAI Farms who are closely involved with Vet Sustain, managing some of their early sustainability programmes and in the last two years as Head of Veterinary Programmes within Benchmark.
Part of my current role involves developing a ‘Balanced Health’ framework, which describes our approach to improving ways of dealing with some major sustainability blocking diseases across animal species.
“The 2016 GAP (global agricultural productivity) report highlighted the 'greatest untold story of food waste' when it highlighted that 1/5th of all livestock are lost due to disease through the production system. This challenge describes the main focus of my current role.”
What’s your favourite part of the role?
I spend much of my time working with veterinary and health teams from across the world, and now that technology has improved so much the majority of this is via video calls.
I love that I work with many people who share my purpose, and I find huge motivation in the potential we have to not only improve the welfare of animals under our care but also that we can contribute actively to the vital environmental agenda that we all face.
What are the roles of vets in driving sustainability?
As a profession I believe that we must continue our move towards being custodians of health, welfare and productivity rather than the treaters of disease and be willing to provide societal leadership, challenging the status quo where necessary and providing sound innovative solutions within the varied sectors we operate in.
What do you see are the major opportunities to drive sustainability in the veterinary sector?
With over 70 billion production animals globally and rising, a huge challenge as vets is to play an important role in feeding the human population but critically to do so in a way which protects and enhances our environment – and to do so with urgency and the broad knowledge that is required.
"There is little doubt that disease compromises sustainability across the board constituting a major welfare problem to the animals involved having a substantial environmental impact in terms of wasted land, resources and potential 'one health' impacts and of course the negative economic impact."
There is an urgent need for us to develop new ways of approaching the control of particularly endemic disease and our unique skill set should allow us to be leading this endeavour.
As influencers we have a strong role to play in societal leadership and advocacy through our practices as hubs of knowledge, and by developing our knowledge of some of the broader issues associated with sustainability today.
As citizens and ultimately human beings I do believe we have a responsibility to lead by example and to so this with energy and enthusiasm for the huge positive contributions we can all make.
What practical advice do you have for people looking to get involved in driving sustainability in the vet sector?
We are becoming more and more aware of the many formidable and urgent challenges we face in both our work and personal lives we can all take personal responsibility, challenge ourselves, our decisions and our actions. Whatever you do and wherever your priorities lie, take a good hard look at today and work out what you need to know to do things differently tomorrow. Knowledge is power so make connections with those who you think might be able to help!
Do you have any tips for juggling a busy career with family life?
Time management is certainly my biggest challenge, I could very easily fill several life-times with the amount I would like to achieve professionally.
"You have to carve out time for what you enjoy doing, those activities that help you to unwind. I love getting outside running, biking, and walking with our dog and, if I can persuade them, one or more of the children (some are keener than others).
I also love yoga and really feel the effect when time pressures cause this to drop off the schedule. We keep a small number of sheep, cattle and pigs near to our house so there are always jobs to do with them."
Head of veterinary programmes, Benchmark
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