Vets call on government to support sustainability, a healthy workforce and better animal welfare legislation
BVA President Dr Justine Shotton addressing guests at the London Dinner
Addressing nearly 80 guests including Parliamentarians, key representatives from animal health and welfare organisations, and veterinary professionals, at BVA’s London Dinner in the heart of Westminster, President Dr Justine Shotton praised the efforts of veterinary teams in keeping animals healthy, protecting public health and keeping the food chain moving whilst battling a backdrop of Covid, Brexit and a recent surge in pet ownership.
However, she acknowledged that this has come at a significant and ultimately unsustainable cost to the profession’s capacity and wellbeing. “If we are going to cope with ongoing and new or unforeseen challenges ahead, we need action now to improve recruitment, retention and rates of return to veterinary work, to ensure that all existing vets can feel supported, safe and rewarded in their careers, and to encourage future vets from all walks of life to follow in our footsteps.”
The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss, who spoke as BVA’s Guest of Honour, thanked Dr Shotton and everyone in the wider profession on behalf of Minister Lord Benyon, the government and the public. “By keeping the vet surgery doors open, you didn't just simply care for our animals, but extended that care to the 17 million households who have pets in the UK.”
She echoed Dr Shotton’s sentiments on workforce and wellbeing; “The profession and government must continue to work together and respond to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. It is imperative we create a sustainable, healthy vet led workforce, a workforce that not only is empowered to look after the animals of their care, but also their employees and ourselves. The veterinary profession undertakes a key role maintaining our excellent standards of animal health and welfare, predicting public health and ensuring food safety and facilitating trade.”
Dr Neil Hudson MP praised Dr Shotton and the BVA for highlighting the key issues facing the veterinary sector and the animal health and welfare sector
Dr Shotton went on to welcome the Government’s commitment to delivering new measures which should bring lasting cross-species benefits and help to tackle what BVA members have long recognised as some of the most pressing animal health and welfare issues.
“It’s been really encouraging to see legislation that takes action on longstanding areas of veterinary concern such as keeping primates as pets, reviewing zoo standards, livestock worrying and puppy smuggling making their passage through parliament via the Kept Animals Bill. And following years of concerted campaigning, we continue to keep the pressure up to finally embed the principle of animal sentience in law via the forthcoming Bill.”
Recognising the urgency of bringing these changes into law she went on to make a plea to government to get these crucial and long-awaited pieces of legislation over the line in time for the Queen’s Speech. “We are well aware that other events are rightly and understandably taking parliamentary priority at the moment, but we owe it to billions of animals to seize the chance to protect them in law and reassert the UK’s standards on welfare.”
Conservative MP Dr Neil Hudson, the first vet in the House of Commons since 1884, praised Dr Shotton and the BVA for highlighting the key issues facing the veterinary sector and the animal health and welfare sector. “There's so much we can do working together to push this agenda forward and hold the government to account, to get the decisions right, so that we can make policy changes to improve animal health and welfare,” he said.
For her year as BVA President, Dr Shotton has chosen the theme of sustainability, which she believes is an issue of paramount importance which demands conviction and clarity of purpose from all sides. “At BVA, much of our focus has revolved around harnessing the profession’s deep-seated interest in sustainability and supporting members with practical tips for going greener within and beyond working life. And we’re also looking in depth at the environmental impact of some of the resources we use and the sectors we serve.”
Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee Neil Parish MP congratulated the BVA on promoting successful conversations
Moving on to agricultural issues, Dr Shotton applauded vets for their role in mitigating against and monitoring for disease outbreaks, including the recent cases of Avian Influenza across the UK. She encouraged those working in the farming sector to engage with the forthcoming Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, a programme of support for farmers in England based around key priorities
“We see the Pathway as offering a great chance to improve animal health and welfare, drive down disease pressures across regions, and work towards supporting sustainable animal agriculture. Importantly, it will also acknowledge and enshrine the value that vets can add to livestock businesses, and the importance of cementing those strong relationships.”
Middlemiss also shared her excitement for the animal health welfare pathway as part of DEFRA’s agricultural transition plan. She explained that the pathway offers farmers funding for an annual visit from a vet of their choice to carry out diagnostic testing viewed by security practices, use of medicines, and to provide bespoke advice on actions and the available grant support to further improve health and welfare. “It aims to add value to the existing practices and assurance schemes, and really build on those strong relationships that already exist between farmers and their vets” she said.
“We know that vets and farmers are the best people to decide where to focus the time and effort to improve health and welfare. This will build into a regional and national endemic disease picture, which will enable us to continue to work again together to identify future disease, eradication, schemes, but importantly, the pathways of partnership with each step co-designed with farmers, vets in and supply chain really very different to the prescriptive and restrictive rural development programs we had before.”
Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee Neil Parish MP congratulated the BVA on promoting successful conversations, especially around the pathway “The speeches tonight and resulting discussions around the tables have demonstrated that we are working towards dealing with animal welfare in a practical way so that we can both farm, and have better animal welfare, better disease control, and DEFRA, agriculture and farming, and the veterinary profession can work collaboratively together.
Dr Shotton ended her speech recognising that the year had been punctuated by “continued challenges and uncertainty for the veterinary profession,” however she feels confident that members will “rise up to face the challenges ahead”.
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