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Vets and government can make the UK the world leader in animal health and welfare - Rural Minister

Jeremy Hughes | British Veterinary Association

5 min read Partner content

Speaking at the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) annual London Dinner, Lord Gardiner, Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, highlighted the Government’s close working relationship with the veterinary profession in establishing the UK as the world leader in animal health and welfare.

Addressing over 80 guests at BVA’s London Dinner in the heart of Westminster, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, the Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, stated that the veterinary profession was “hugely diverse and influential”.

“I much value our close cooperation and the professionalism you bring to animal health and welfare, disease control and international trade,” he said.

He continued: “In the year ahead, our close working relationship with the profession will be as important as ever and will help the UK become the world leader in animal health and welfare.”

BVA has long campaigned to ensure animal health and welfare standards are not compromised by future trade deals. As the UK enters the transition period, the impact of Brexit remains high on the agenda of BVA and the wider veterinary profession.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister confirmed a set of negotiating priorities that would mean animals and animal products exported from the UK into the EU single market will need veterinary certification documents and checks.

Speaking at the event in London, BVA President Daniella Dos Santos cautioned that this could “spark a surge in demand in our members’ capacity”.

“There must be no mixed messages,” warned Ms Dos Santos.

“The UK cannot commit to raising the bar for “Brand Britain” while allowing goods that don’t meet the high standards British consumers rightly want and expect.”

Alongside the importance of protecting animal health and welfare after Brexit, BVA remains particularly concerned about how the future immigration system will protect vets doing vital public health work and welfare monitoring in UK abattoirs, 95% of whom hail from the EU.

In her speech, Ms Dos Santos stated that the decision of the Home Office to reinstate vets on the Shortage Occupation List was a “resounding vote of confidence in the value of vets”.

However, she warned that restoring vets to the list isn’t a “cure-all” for all of the capacity challenges facing the profession, especially in vital areas such as public health and food safety.

Lord Gardiner stated that he recognised the crucial contribution of the 34% of vets from overseas, 27% from the EU and further 7% from the rest of the world.

“With veterinary surgeons on the shortage occupation list as Daniella as referred, we will work with vets from across the globe, recognising the vital importance in the UK of vets from overseas,” he said.

“In bringing forward to the EU settlement scheme, it is clear that we wish EU vets living and working here to continue to do so,” continued Lord Gardiner.

Whilst supportive of the measure, the BVA President warned: “It’s critical that along with these welcome assurances, we make sure that our EU vets still feel that the UK is open to them as a positive and fulfilling place to work.”

For her year as BVA President, Ms Dos Santos has chosen the theme of #VetDiversity.

“#VetDiversity takes many forms, and I want to celebrate the wide range of benefits that vets realise for society,” she said.

Daniella urged Ministers to “look at how to fund our future vets, to give students from all backgrounds the best shot at a successful pathway to graduation”.

The BVA President stated she supported the moves towards a post-study work visa for UK vet school graduates and will be “pushing to see this come to fruition in the immigration bill.”

Lord Gardiner stated that 1,400 new registrants to the RCVS register last year came from outside the UK and that starting in the 2021 academic year, a new graduate route will allow for students to stay and find work in the UK for two years after they have successfully completed their studies. This would extend the current four-year period and make it much easier for graduates to stay and work in the UK.

“It is important that we are able to retain as much veterinary talent as possible,” said Lord Gardiner.

Animal sentience

Lord Gardiner also discussed the government’s plans to increase the maximum custodial sentence available for five key offences under the animal welfare act from six months to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine a bring in new legislation on animal sentience.

Ms Dos Santos said: “We’ve reiterated our call to see the principle of animal sentience finally pushed over the line and into law.”

Lord Gardiner stated that from April this year, regulations will ban the third-party sale of puppies and kittens.

“We are working hard to target both the supply and demand of illegal imported dogs, and we are extremely grateful to BVA for their collaboration and others I may say on this important issue.”

The Minister said that they were “also grateful to BVA for your invaluable input into strengthening our welfare codes for farmed animals, helping to ensure that they are based on the most recent scientific and veterinary advice.”

“We are codesigning with industry and veterinary professions an animal health and welfare pathway that will improve the health of livestock. 

“The BVA will be key to this success, and we want to harness that special relationship between farmer and vet to help drive lasting behaviour change,” he said.

“To the BVA, I wish you continued success. To Daniella, a very successful year,” Lord Gardiner concluded.

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