09 October 2013
Vets must be at the heart of initiatives to expand the food supply chain in Northern Ireland, according to the President of the British Veterinary Association as he delivered a speech to guests at the BVA's annual Northern Ireland dinner.
Under the theme of ‘trust' BVA President Robin Hargreaves spoke of the importance of the relationship between vets and their clients in delivering government and industry-led programmes to eradicate disease and improve animal health and welfare.
The dinner was also attended by the Chief Veterinary Officer for Northern Ireland, Bert Houston, who delivered a speech on behalf of DARD Minister Michelle O'Neill who was unable to attend. Earlier in the day the BVA Officers and BVA Northern Ireland Branch met with Michelle O'Neill to discuss the key issues raised in the President's speech.
Guests at the dinner, hosted by Kieran McCarthy MLA at Stormont, included parliamentarians, key representatives of animal health and welfare organisations and the agri-food industry, media, and senior members of the veterinary profession.
Welcoming the Agri-Food Strategy Board's ‘Going for Growth' report, Mr Hargreaves said:
“The importance of the relationship between an animal owner and his/her vet should never be underestimated. That is why we feel so strongly that vets must be at the heart of current initiatives to significantly expand the local food sector.
“[Going for Growth] couldn't have come at a better time given the extraordinary challenges our livestock keepers have faced over the past 12 months, most notably the terrible spring weather that resulted in such devastating losses.
“We are pleased to see that the key recommendations of ‘Going for Growth' include the need to eliminate animal disease, to double the drawdown of European funding for agri-food innovation, and to promote the USP of improved animal health, welfare and biosecurity.
“Yes, it's ambitious. But it's also achievable as long as we have a strong network of veterinary practices and a commitment to veterinary-led research.”
On the BVD and Johne's disease eradication programmes being developed by Animal Health and Welfare NI, he said:
“Through our members on the ground BVA is firmly behind these programmes and we have communicated our strong support for the next phase of the BVD eradication programme to include compulsory testing. We hope that the groundswell of opinion from industry and the profession will help the Minister to introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest opportunity…
“The ongoing battle against endemic disease frustrates vets and farmers on a daily basis. We are constantly chasing to keep up and so we must seize this opportunity for the future health and welfare of the national herd to allow us to fully exploit its export potential.”
Mr Hargreaves also warned of the unintended consequences of losing the network of local veterinary practices if DARD followed the AHVLA in changing the way Official Veterinarian (OV) work is procured. He said:
“These relationships must never be taken for granted. The role of private vets as trusted sources of advice for farmers in endemic disease control programmes must not be lost in the rush to make cost savings…
“We lose our network of local veterinary practices at our peril. It's a network that provides vital services to the rural economy and a first line of defence in the face of disease.”
On bovine TB Mr Hargreaves commented on the need for urgent action to tackle the disease. He said:
“This call for urgency is one that the BVA wholeheartedly echoes, and we recognise the frustration from vets, farmers, and politicians alike at the slow pace of change to the national disease picture.
“But after many years of lobbying we are pleased that there is now widespread recognition that bovine TB cannot be eradicated without a commitment to tackling the disease in wildlife.”
On pet advertising Mr Hargreaves called for support for minimum standards for websites. He said:
“Sadly, the sale of animals on the internet has fed into the idea that a new pet is just one click away. And so the BVA is a member of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (or PAAG), which recently launched a set of minimum standards for websites to demonstrate that they take the welfare of animals for sale seriously.
“PAAG has been working with Gumtree and the other major classified sites to help get the mechanisms in place to quickly remove any adverts that fall short of these standards.
“With thousands of adverts posted regularly it's no easy task, and we would appreciate political support from DARD and others for this initiative.”
Other topics covered in the speech
You can download the full text of the President's speech on the top right hand side of this page which includes these additional topics: the horsemeat scandal; antimicrobial resistance; statutory biosecurity guidance for brucellosis eradication; the government/industry strategic partnership on bovine TB; funding for research and development (R&D); the potential for a new veterinary school in Northern Ireland; responsible pet ownership; tail docking of puppies; dog breeding regulations; AWF/RSPCA puppy contract and puppy information pack; the formation of BVA Northern Ireland Branch; and tributes to Des Thompson who stood down as chairman of VetNI and Chief Veterinary Officer Bert Houston who will retire in November