Recognising and retaining the vital roles that vets play across animal health, animal welfare and public health is pivotal to securing successful outcomes from Brexit, said the British Veterinary Association (BVA) President to a roomful of key influencers at BVA’s annual London Dinner in Westminster on 7 February.
Speaking on the depth and breadth of the veterinary profession’s roles and responsibilities, BVA President Gudrun Ravetz said:
“The veterinary family – which is my focus as BVA President – is part of the international scientific community, and we are a diverse profession with far-reaching influence and impact in so many areas of political and public life … A healthy veterinary workforce is vital for UK animal and human health.”
At the dinner the BVA President previewed a new campaign, ‘I support team vet’, due to launch the next day (8 February), which champions the value of veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses and the wider veterinary team. With the residence or working rights of UK-based EU vets a ‘top five’ priority for the profession in forthcoming Brexit negotiations, the BVA President highlighted workforce issues in her speech:
“The UK veterinary profession relies heavily on EU graduates, who have felt the impact of the EU referendum result since day one … In the meat hygiene sector alone, some estimates suggest 95% of veterinary surgeons graduated overseas.
“That’s why our first action after 23 June was to call on UK governments to protect the status of EU veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses currently living and working in the UK. It was encouraging to see some of these key priorities … make it into the Prime Minister’s list of negotiating priorities. But we have said from the outset that our members need certainty and reassurance, so we urge the Government to make that firm commitment now.”
On the veterinary profession’s approach to Brexit, the BVA President emphasised:
“We know vets remain nervous about the changes to come, with many of our members concerned about the threat Brexit poses for UK animal health and welfare … Yet we can also see the opportunities Brexit presents, and BVA is determined to work with the Government to seize these opportunities, where they exist, to improve standards.”
Highlighting opportunities that Brexit could offer in terms of improving animal health and welfare, Ms Ravetz suggested a tightening up of the Pet Travel Scheme to reduce the growing trend of illegal puppy imports and improvements for welfare at slaughter. She said:
“The Welfare at Time of Killing or WATOK Regulations for England … are a case in point about the welfare-mismatch that could occur between domestic standards and those of our trading partners under the new Brexit arrangements. By failing to bring in evidence-based parameters for all waterbath stunning of poultry, [the]legislation has rendered it impossible for Official Veterinarians to protect the welfare of all chickens at slaughter. The regulations are simply not for fit for purpose, and could call into question England’s claim as a leader in high animal welfare.”
The BVA President shared with the dinner’s 70 attendees a highlight for animal welfare during an early meeting between BVA and the then new Defra Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom MP last July:
“We were pleased to hear [the Defra Secretary of State’s]vision to make the unique selling points of ‘UK PLC’ high animal welfare and food safety standards. It’s a commitment that BVA fully backs … To ensure our high standards continue, it is essential that we maintain existing veterinary certification and controls to satisfy our own consumer demand for quality and safety. Official statistics put the value of UK livestock outputs at £13 billion and not a penny of that could be realised without veterinary input.”
Ms Ravetz concluded by looking ahead:
“We can only make a success of Brexit if we harness our veterinary resource in clinical practice, public health, government services, conservation, academia, research and industry. We are a small profession but our impact is significant.”
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity Lord Gardiner of Kimble responded to the BVA President’s speech. He said:
“Veterinary professionals across the UK do such crucial work helping to protect against the threat of disease, caring for our beloved pets and underpinning our food and farming industry.
“In my role at Defra I am continually reminded of the importance of the relationship between vets and government – most recently in tackling the outbreak of Avian Influenza in the UK. Your thoughts and ideas are invaluable as we manage the many opportunities and challenges posed by exiting the European Union, ensure the highest standards of animal welfare, protect the country from new animal disease threats, and attract the brightest and best into the profession.
“I look forward to continuing to work closely together as we push ahead with our plans to create a world leading food and farming industry based on high standards of animal health and welfare.”