BVA: 50% of our veterinary workforce are overseas nationals, we must not jeopardise that
Speaking to PoliticsHome, the British Veterinary Association’s president explained the challenges and opportunities which leaving the European Union could provide.
Most people in the United Kingdom had breakfast this morning. Whether that was cereal, a bacon sandwich or even just a cup of tea.
But what people may not think about is that this meal is only safe and accessible because the United Kingdom has veterinary surgeons working in all areas of animal health and welfare.
And it’s not only breakfast that was made possible by this profession. Anyone who walked their dog this morning or played with their cat, that animal’s health and welfare relies upon vet-led team who is capable and well trained.
And thus it is no wonder the British Veterinary Association has reacted with such concern after it has failed to receive assurances about what will happen to EU nationals living and working in the UK following Brexit.
Of the veterinary workforce registered with the profession’s regulator, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, around 50% are non UK EU nationals, and in some sectors where vets work, like public health and food hygiene services, that figure is closer to 95%.
Therefore ever since June 23rd, the BVA’s primary call has been to gain assurance and reassurance for those people.
BVA president Gudrun Ravetz told PoliticsHome: “We're working at all levels to make sure that the vital roles that veterinary surgeons play within food safety, food hygiene, animal health and welfare, across the whole remit that the veterinary profession touches, are recognised, valued and retained.
“We have shown evidence to the Government on how non UK EU nationals are vital to sustaining a viable and thriving veterinary profession; a healthy veterinary workforce means healthy UK animals with high welfare standards being maintained.”
If the profession is not able to gain assurances, Ms Ravetz said that could cause major problems.
“I think if we run short of experienced veterinary professionals, this will create problems for food safety, food hygiene, the meat we eat, the milk we drink, and also the joy we get from our pets. We need to be fully aware of the number of areas that the veterinary profession touches, as we do not want to see that jeopardised. We are talking about animal health and welfare, as well as public health and safety.”
But as well as the concerns, the BVA has also identified potential opportunities that could arise as part of the process of leaving the European Union. One example is the UK’s high animal welfare standards.
“The UK Plc has been, and should continue to be extremely high welfare standards. We have been leading the EU in a lot of these areas and we see that role being even further improved, aiming for higher welfare that could start to influence other areas as well.”
In particular, Ms Ravetz referenced the pet travel scheme (PETS). Over the past six years this has caused the BVA concern as the UK’s regulations have been compromised in order to create harmonisation across the EU.
“We are concerned about potential disease incursions, like tick-borne or other zoonotic diseases. Brexit presents an opportunity to tighten our regulations in order to avoid this as well as facilitating a clamp down on illegal imports of puppies, while still allowing people to do the holiday travel with their pets that they enjoy.”
“We are a country that has extremely high standards of research and development. The veterinary profession plays a key role in that and we want to make sure that we can continue to take advantage of global opportunities post- Brexit. As part of an international scientific community the significant number of overseas vets working in the research community play an invaluable role in our world class research and academic institutions.”
A campaign that the BVA has long championed is the welfare of animals at slaughter, with the Association calling for an end to non-stun slaughter and so-called ‘light’ reversible stunning.
The EU has evidence-based parameters for the stunning of all chickens, but in England, in the Welfare at Time of Killing (WATOK) Regulations, that specification has been omitted which means Official Veterinarians working in slaughterhouses cannot judge if stunning of poultry and other species has been effective or not.
The omission of the electric parameters, which guide slaughterhouses on how to effectively and humanely stun chickens before slaughter, means chickens might not being properly stunned; science shows that these birds can instead be electro-immobilised or paralysed, during which time they are still able to feel pain.
“BVA believes that because the WATOK Regulations for England don't set out the necessary parameters that guide animal welfare we can’t have confidence in them; they are not fit for purpose in actually assisting the proper stunning of the chickens we eat. So that's a real concern of ours, as well as our campaign around non stun slaughter.”
Although it is calling for this ban of non-stun slaughter, the BVA does recognise the sensitivities around this issue, especially given the current Government’s manifesto commitment to protect methods of religious slaughter, such as shechita and halal.
“While we have the UK policy we do, we have pragmatic asks to support welfare at slaughter. While we will continue to call for a ban, we want to see better matching of supply and demand and have clear food labelling so people can make an informed decision on whether they eat stunned or non-stunned slaughter meat. We would also want any animal that is not stunned prior to slaughter to be immediately stunned after their throat is cut to help minimise the prolonged suffering of non-stunned animals and the numbers affected.”
As part of BVA’s campaign around welfare at slaughter, the Association is also calling for mandatory CCTV.
“We are also asking for the introduction of legislation to introduce CCTV in all areas of all slaughterhouses, including equine slaughterhouses, as a tool in fostering a culture of compassion. And importantly that official veterinarians, OVs, have unrestricted access to that CCTV footage to help safeguard animal welfare.”