We cannot have a two-tier system for food exports after Brexit, says top Vet
British Veterinary Association (BVA) President John Fishwick speaks to PoliticsHome about the challenges facing the veterinary profession, ahead of a photography exhibition in Parliament this week, which offers parliamentarians a unique insight into vets’ working lives.
According to BVA President John Fishwick, the EU Referendum has brought into “sharp focus” the reliance of a number of sectors on EU vets who come to the UK to study and to work.
“Half of the veterinary surgeons joining the profession every year are from the EU”.
Having undertaken their own sectoral assessment of the impact of Brexit and potential new arrangements, the BVA President said that it was important that the UK continued to be an “attractive place” to come.
“A significant number of EU vets are concerned about their future in the UK and they are less likely to continue working here; they are less confident about what the future will hold for them and some are looking to go back. The loss of even a small percentage of the veterinary workforce is a very serious situation that we are very concerned about”.
As a result of this, Mr Fishwick confirmed that the BVA and other veterinary organisations are already working with Government to develop a flexible and skilled workforce that can meets the UK’s needs for both the immediate and longer-term future. With BVA making a strong case to secure a special status for the profession after 2019:
“We have said that we feel that veterinary surgeons should be added to the shortage occupation list, to help us manage the immediate shortfall in critical veterinary roles while the UK negotiates a longer-term immigration policy that must meet the UK’s veterinary workforce needs post-Brexit.”.
Mr Fishwick referred to a recent estimate from the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) about a large increase in veterinary certifications that could be required to be done by vets as export rules and trading standards change post-Brexit:
“It is estimated by the CVO that, depending on trade and customs conditions, the amount of certifications done by vets could be 325% more than now. We are going to need the skilled vets to do that”.
He added: “It is crucial that it is veterinary surgeons doing certification not non-qualified people, otherwise it doesn’t carry any weight internationally.
“We have also got to be very careful that food for the home market is certified and regulated to the same very high standard that export food is. We can’t have a two-tier system with the UK having a lower standard that what we are exporting abroad”.
The BVA is keen to promote the work done by the 22,000 veterinary surgeons working in the UK across a broad range of areas from frontline clinical vets in local practice looking after the UK’s 54 million pets, to those working in research and veterinary education, as well as those in the equine sector and the vets working in the livestock sector and public health.
It is these vets working in public health, based primarily in abattoirs which are “crucial to providing safe food for the population” according to Mr Fishwick.
“Vets are really involved at all levels. As well as looking after the health of the animals. When it comes to meat production, vets have to take an additional qualification to make them ‘Official Veterinarians’ (OVs), which means they are qualified to approve the food safety and public health standards in abattoirs and to maintain the welfare of the animals in the abattoirs”.
“That includes everything from the transportation into that abattoir, the way the animals are kept in the abattoir up to the points of slaughter and actually at the point of slaughter. So the welfare of the animals is their responsibility”.
John Fishwick describes this as “a vital part of our food safety and animal welfare work”.
Industry estimates gathered by the BVA shows that approximately 95% of these Official Veterinarians in abattoirs are non-UK EU citizens. As a result of Brexit and the ongoing negotiations Fishwick is concerned to protect these vets to avoid many leaving the UK, which would have serious implications for food production.
The campaigning work conducted so far by the veterinary profession is having an impact and John Fishwick is clear that the voice of vets is being heard across government:
“We know that Michael Gove and the Prime Minister have both paid tribute to the important role that EU qualified vets play in the UK. We do think that there is a real understanding of the need to ensure the status of these people as we are really very dependent on them as things stand at the moment.
Reflecting on the size of the veterinary sector relative to other sectors, which have already been lobbying government on similar matters for many months, he added:
“We are quite a small profession so losing a small percentage of our workforce could have very serious repercussions”.
The BVA is keen according to its President to “make sure MPs understand what a vital role veterinary surgeons play in the country, in very many different guises”.
One of the recent success of the industry has been in reducing the use of antibiotics in animals by 9% because of multi-disciplinary collaboration between UK vets, researchers and other medical professionals.
“The use of antibiotics must be reduced. Veterinary surgeons are at the forefront of that in many ways; in academia, vets on the frontline responsible for prescribing drugs and livestock vets who decide whether to use these or which ones”
He added the UK vets had worked closely with the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) and Government Vets to bring about this reduction.
“All vets have been working together to achieve a consensus and a positive outcome. We have also worked closely with the medical and other health professions. This is not a them and us situation and will only be improved if we work together.”
This critical work will be there for all parliamentarians and parliamentary support staff to see at the exhibition Through the eyes of vets which is on display in the Upper Waiting Room of the House of Commons from Monday 8 – Thursday 11 January.
“We had about 1,000 entries into our BVA photo competitions in 2016 and 2017. This has been narrowed down to 22 images which we are very honoured to exhibit at the House of Commons. We are delighted to have been offered this chance. We’re very grateful to Neil Parish MP for hosting it”.
Mr Fishwick continued:
“The great thing about these pictures is that they are taken by the vets who work across many different areas. It is our members and our colleagues showing the amazing range of things which they are doing on a daily basis”.
The BVA President was keen to remind MPs, peers and their staff to think of the BVA as a resource which is always on call to offer expertise and advice on any veterinary related matter
“We are only too pleased to provide information for anyone who needs it. We will have people at the exhibition to provide advice. It is only 22 images so won’t take long for MPs and peers to pop in and take a look!”
**BVA’s photography exhibition, Through the eyes of vets, offers a unique insight into vets’ lives today. It will be in the Upper Waiting Room of the House of Commons until Thursday 11 January for Members to view. All parliamentarians and staff are invited to the opening of the exhibition, hosted by Neil Parish MP in the Upper Waiting Room of the House of Commons on Tuesday 9 January 2018, 2.30pm - 3.00pm.**