BVA Annual Scottish Dinner 2007 - Scottish Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead's Speech
15 years agoScottish Parliament, 14 June 2007 Welcome to the Scottish Parliament which you will agree is a magnificent setting for tonight’s event. It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to meet the British Veterinary Association this evening so soon after taking up my post as Cabinet Secretary. The first eight years of Parliament have been notable for progress in improving animal health and welfare in Scotland. Devolution has enabled the Scottish Government to apply distinctly Scottish solutions to Scottish problems – but more about that later. I have only been in post for four weeks but have already spoken to many livestock keepers who tell me devolution has produced positive results for them. I see John Cameron here tonight – only two nights ago when I met the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, John was extolling the virtues of devolution for the beef sector. I am a new Minister in a new Government and I am very keen to engage with all involved in rural affairs and rural communities including those responsible for animal health and welfare. I want to hear about hopes, aspirations and, yes – even problems – so that we can work together to improve Scotland and fulfil the potential of Scotland to become a world leader in this field. Reverting to the Scottish Beef Cattle Association for a moment, the three things of major importance for Scotland’s livestock were put to me by one of their Board as genetics, nutrition and welfare. I would add a fourth – biosecurity, but whether you agree or disagree the point is that dialogue like this helps us to focus on the future. I am looking forward to speaking to many of you this evening, some for the first time and others who are ‘weel kent’ faces. Finally, before I concentrate on some of the serious issues concerning the veterinary profession I would like to thank Alex Ferguson for hosting this dinner, reflecting his genuine and longstanding interest in your profession in Scotland. This was recognised in 2000 when he was made an Honorary Associate of your organisation. Your President, David Catlow, has outlined a number of the challenges facing the profession both within Scotland and more widely. I listened with interest to his constructive suggestions on how some of these concerns might be addressed. We are fortunate in Scotland to have world class veterinary science. Not only in the areas of research, education and surveillance but also with our veterinary practitioners who provide services for livestock keepers across the country. This expertise contributes to higher standards of animal health and welfare. This is important in itself but in addition healthier animals are more productive and so the profession has a direct impact on farm profitability and the sustainability of rural communities, thereby contributing to a wealthier Scotland. The high quality of Scottish produce is rightly recognised across the world. Good examples include Scotch beef and lamb which have been given Protected Geographical Indication status. However, we must not rest on our laurels as other countries seek to improve their own brands. In my opinion, the profession has a central role to play in maintaining our market position through driving up standards of the health and quality of animals and their products at all parts of the food chain. This partnership approach is also reflected in the work being undertaken under the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy in Scotland. The profession and livestock industry have been working closely with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to agree targets for disease reduction. Progress is now being made on a number of important diseases such as tuberculosis, BVD and sheep scab. The Animal Health and Welfare Management Plan option under Land Management Contracts has provided financial support to farmers to take a more proactive approach to animal health. This scheme encourages farmers to work with their veterinary advisers to increase biosecurity, prevent disease entry and to address existing health problems on their premises. Over 4,500 livestock keepers now participate in the Scheme, providing a real opportunity to make a positive impact on the health of our national herd and flock. The uptake of this scheme demonstrates the changing attitudes to animal health with farmers increasingly recognising that prevention is better than cure. The challenge for the veterinary profession is to respond to this change and to maximise the benefits of this approach. Building on this initiative Scottish Government has recently launched its benchmarking database. This facility allows livestock keepers and their veterinary advisers to monitor production and health parameters on farms. Performance can then be compared with that on similar enterprises, within their own region or even on a national basis. Turning now to the threats of incursion of exotic disease. We have experienced several outbreaks of high and low pathogenic Avian Influenza as well as Newcastle disease within GB over the last few months. Additionally, events in Northern Europe last year have demonstrated the potential for diseases such as Bluetongue to cause outbreaks in areas of the world in which they have not been experienced previously. The isolation of bluetongue virus in Germany last week increases concern that this disease may have overwintered successfully and continues to pose a risk to British livestock. My officials continue to work with colleagues across GB to, as far as possible, mitigate the risk of disease entering the country, identify disease quickly should it be introduced and agree specific measures that can be introduced rapidly to reduce the impact of any incursion. As you well know exotic disease can enter the country through a number of routes including legal and illegal trade, movements of people and through wild birds and other wildlife. We all can make important contributions to addressing these risks. I have held longstanding concerns regarding border security and have raised this issue in several Parliamentary Committee meetings including during the Stage 1 proceedings of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill. We will work with the UK and the EU authorities to ensure that robust and effective measures to prevent illegal imports are put in place. We will also ensure that contingency plans are regularly updated and exercised to maximise the impact of our response to any outbreak. Livestock keepers also have an important role. They should source animals responsibly from areas of low risk. Sensible biosecurity measures such as isolation and post movement testing of boughtin stock should be implemented as a matter of course. Care should also be taken to use properly licensed medicines and other products. Only last year we saw the impact the use of unauthorised products can have when Equine Infectious Anaemia was introduced into Southern Ireland. This resulted in number of deaths in horses as well as significant disruption and costs possibly as high as several million pounds to their equine industry. The veterinary profession has key responsibilities in this area. You are in a position of trust and can advise your clients on the risk of importing disease whether this is bluetongue from Northern Europe or tuberculosis from high risk areas in England and Wales. You can also advise on measures that can be implemented to mitigate these risks where there are no alternative sources for these animals. The profession is also in the front line for surveillance. It is the veterinary practitioner whether on the farm, in markets or in the abattoir who is best placed to recognise exotic disease and initiate the systems that we have in place to control and eradicate any outbreak. Early identification of incursion of disease is essential to minimise the impact of outbreaks. Failure to do so can have catastrophic consequences as demonstrated by the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001. Effective surveillance is also important to monitor trends of endemic disease and to identifying new disease threats. The emergence of BSE in the late 1980’s provides a good example of the impact new disease can have. Early identification of emerging diseases allows controls to be implemented promptly. Similarly, identification of changing trends of endemic disease allows you as practitioners to advise your clients on changing risks and any measures that need to be introduced to address these. In Scotland we are fortunate to be particularly well served in this area by SAC Veterinary Services, the Moredun Research Institute and the veterinary schools amongst others. But we would do well not to forget the invaluable contribution to surveillance of veterinary practitioners who are best placed to identify changing disease patterns. Yours President highlighted concerns with the recent decision to stop routine brucellosis testing of the beef herd. It is a feature of animal health that disease threats and priorities change over time. Our surveillance programme is regularly reviewed to ensure that resources are focused on the areas which will have the greatest impact on managing disease risks. The eradication of brucellosis from Great Britain is a tremendous success story and a credit to the profession. It has delivered real animal and human health benefits. However, we are no longer required to maintain routine herd surveillance under EU rules and veterinary risk assessments have demonstrated that such testing adds little to our ability to detect disease. We must not become complacent. The reintroduction of brucellosis, to Scotland, from Ireland in 2003 provided a reminder of the risks presented by imported animals to the national herd. We need to maintain our capacity to manage this risk. As a consequence post import testing of imported cattle is strictly implemented. The monitoring of bovine abortions will also continue and remains the most effective method of detecting disease. The profession has an important role to play ensuring that your clients understand the necessity to report all abortions to their local Animal Health Office. Finally, the routine bulk milk sampling of the dairy herd will also continue. These measures, properly implemented, will rapidly identify brucellosis should it be reintroduced to this country. Whilst the decision to adjust the brucellosis surveillance programme was soundly based the speed and lack of consultation with which this change was implemented by Defra was unfortunate to say the least and I am told against the advice of Scottish officials. I also recognise that withdrawing this testing will have a financial impact on practices, particularly those in the remote areas of Scotland. This at a time when these businesses are facing considerable challenges. In order to prevent this happening again I have spoken to David Milliband with the view to put in place arrangements to ensure that Scottish views are taken into account in future decisions of this nature. We need a new relationship with Defra that is both cordial and robust. Scottish Government has long recognised the very real problems experienced by the profession in delivering veterinary services to the remote parts of Scotland. In 1915 the Highlands and Islands Veterinary Services Scheme was introduced to ensure that crofters and people of similar status had adequate access to veterinary services. Last year approximately £700,000 was provided to support this scheme. Animal Health and Welfare Management Plans were also introduced to reengage veterinary practitioners with their clients and to support the development of effective, veterinary led, farm health planning. This was a new stream of additional work which as I said earlier has resulted in 4,500 farmers engaging their vet on a regular basis. The problem of delivery in remote areas is also being addressed as a priority by the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy Advisory Group. Working closely with the BVA the advisory group is currently looking to identify funding opportunities, and best practice, for veterinary businesses. Representations are also being made to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons on the issue of 24 hour cover. The advisory group will continue to proactively seek opportunities to address this ongoing problem. Turning now to State Veterinary Medicine. I am pleased to note the new arrangements for the provision of veterinary advice with the CVO Scotland and his team working directly to the Scottish Government. I will also follow with interest the delivery of Scottish animal health and welfare policy by the Animal Health Agency under the current level service agreement and explore whether further improvement is required. In conclusion I believe that the veterinary profession in Scotland will have an essential role in the future providing surveillance for endemic and exotic disease, protecting public health as well as delivering the animal health and welfare strategy and frontline services to livestock keepers. I look forward to working closely with the profession over the coming years to maximise the benefits that you can provide. The provision of high quality veterinary science in Scotland can make a significant contribution to the delivery of wealthier and sustainable rural communities.
14th June, 2007 00h00
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