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No deal Brexit risks shortages, delays and lower standards, warn Vets

No deal Brexit risks shortages, delays and lower standards, warn Vets

Simon Doherty, British Veterinary Association President | British Veterinary Association

4 min read Partner content

The British Veterinary Association president writes following a recent parliamentary briefing event discussing challenges for the UK veterinary community and he repeats BVA calls for vets to be added to the shortage occupation list.

Every autumn the British Veterinary Association (BVA) holds an Afternoon Tea Briefing in Parliament. It’s a welcome chance for MPs and peers to connect with our officers and other leading vets to find out more about the issues that matter most in the veterinary world, and what they can do to support our campaigns and calls to action.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit formed the bulk of the event this year, particularly the ever-more-likely prospect of a no deal scenario.  A new briefing launched at the event suggests that leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place would exacerbate current shortages in the veterinary profession and create significant risks for trade, animal health and welfare, and food safety.

Vet Shortages

The veterinary profession is already experiencing shortages and recent figures from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) suggest that Brexit will exacerbate this, as 32 per cent of non-UK EU veterinary surgeons are considering a move back home and 18 per cent are actively looking for work outside the UK.

In a recent survey of BVA members, nearly two-thirds (64%) of vets felt that Brexit was more of a threat than an opportunity for the veterinary profession and nearly nine out of ten (88%) are concerned about the potential lack of veterinary capacity to undertake certification post-Brexit.

A no deal Brexit will require more work from vets to meet increased demands for the certification needed for export of animals and animal products and for pet travel. In addition, exiting from EU surveillance systems and uncertainty around access to medicines could have negative impacts on animal health and welfare further down the line, requiring more veterinary capacity.

Exiting from EU surveillance, food safety and trade systems

Under a no deal Brexit the UK will lose or have limited access to a range of EU systems and organisations that are central to safeguarding public and animal health. These include the Animal Disease Notification System (ADNS), which permits access to information about contagious animal disease outbreaks, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which provides scientific advice and communication on existing and emerging risks to food safety and the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES), which records the outcome of biosecurity and food safety checks on imported commodities. 

Alternative systems need to be in place to ensure the UK’s reputation in animal disease surveillance, food safety and biosecurity is maintained post-Brexit and vets should be involved in the development of these systems. Currently it is not clear what, if any, form these systems will take and the level of veterinary involvement in their development and application.

Delays to pet travel and animal transport

With no deal in place, when the UK leaves the EU it will have to become a ‘listed third country’ for the purposes of trade, pet travel and animal movement. This will mean increasing demands on the veterinary profession in terms of signing Export Health Certificates (EHCs) for the export of animals or animal products as well as certification, testing and vaccination for pet travel and equine transport.

Without approval from the European Union, the UK will not achieve listed third country status on Brexit day and there could be a delay of several months during which animals may not be able to travel and abattoirs may not be able operate due to the increasing demands for export certification.

The Northern Ireland border and coordination across devolved administrations

With no agreed ‘backstop’ in place to avoid the need for veterinary checks on the live animals and products of animal origin at the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, vets would be required to undertake these checks, placing more demands on an overstretched veterinary workforce.

A no deal Brexit would mean no transition period where EU law would continue to take effect across the UK until the replacement legislation is in place. This reduces the time for common frameworks to coordinate and agree animal health and welfare policy across the four parts of the UK.

Making the case for the veterinary profession

With the prospect of a no deal Brexit looming large, huge question marks remain over what will replace the EU systems and legislation that have hitherto been central to our standards in animal health and welfare, food safety and trade. The increased pressures on the workforce calls for immediate measures to be taken, and we are urging the government to place vets on the shortage occupation list.

We are proud of the meticulous care with which vets uphold standards and any post-Brexit systems or procedures must allow us to maintain our responsibilities to public health and animal health and welfare. As always, we are keen to work with the government to ensure that we are as fully prepared as possible for what a no deal Brexit holds.

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