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BVA President Nicky Paull's Speech For The London Dinner 2009

13 years ago

11th February, 2009 00h00

BVA London Dinner Having for some years hosted annual dinners on behalf of our members in the capital cities of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of which are well-established and popular events in their respective agri-food/animal welfare/political calendar, we felt that a London dinner was long overdue. We very much hope, as is the case in the devolved administrations, that the event tonight (Tuesday, 10 February) will provide an opportunity for us to discuss issues of animal welfare, animal health and food safety. We are particularly delighted that the Secretary of State, The Rt Hon Mr Hilary Benn MP, has agreed to honour this inaugural event by responding on behalf of the guests. Please find below BVA President Nicky Paull's speech for this evening's event, held at One Great George Street near the Houses of Parliament. BVA President Nicky Paull's speech for the London Dinner 2009 Minister, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to welcome you to this inaugural BVA London Dinner. We have, for many years, hosted annual dinners on behalf of our members in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These have all become well-established and popular events in the calendar, with the guests representing the decision-makers of each country’s agri-food and animal welfare community. Understandably, we very much hope that this London/England dinner will be the first of many and are very grateful to you Minister for having honoured us by agreeing to reply on behalf of the guests. Having mentioned devolution issues within the devolved regions, it is only fair that here in London I reiterate our view that while devolution has undoubtedly brought many benefits, Great Britain is a single epidemiological unit and it needs to be considered as such. However, through close co-operation, where we can all learn from the progress of others, devolution, with its emphasis on regional flexibility and variation can and should be a force for progression in livestock production. Last November the European Commission, in collaboration with the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, held the first European Veterinary Week with the theme ‘Prevention is Better than Cure’. The week was launched with a day long conference on ‘One Health: Healthy Animals = Healthy People’. Discussion included the links between animal and human health, the role of the veterinary profession in public health and the new Action Plan for the implementation of the EU Animal Health Strategy. The key message of the week was biosecurity and indeed a road show is currently touring major veterinary, agricultural and animal shows throughout Europe. Its aim is to highlight the relevance of disease control and biosecurity, to both the efficiency and sustainability of the livestock industry. Such issues will hold at least one of the keys to our future food security. It is therefore timely that currently both Defra’s recent consultation on ‘Ensuring the UK’s Food Security in a Changing World’ and the House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee’s (EFRACOM) inquiry into ‘Securing Food Supplies up to 2050: the challenges for the UK’, are taking place. In our responses the BVA has made a number of calls, not least for food security to be acknowledged as a public health issue. We need to see improvements to the stringency of surveillance, including retention of rural veterinary numbers, improved border biosecurity and far more targeted veterinary research into disease control. But we equally should not lose sight that disease control should start at the farm gate and sadly we have seen farm units that have risked their own animals’ health and that of the rest of the UK livestock by importing stock from disease risk areas. Buyer beware – what looks like a great financial deal can result in costly implications for you and rest of the UK livestock industry. Without wishing to labour the point, responsibility for biosecurity is a joint one that must be shared by all who have a responsibility for animals whether on the farm, in the stables or in the home. Unfortunately epizootic diseases, zoonotic diseases and novel, emerging diseases are no respecter of borders or animal species. At our annual congress a few years ago, the distinguished veterinary scientist Professor Paul Gibbs of the Department of Pathology at the University of Florida gave the Wooldridge Memorial Lecture. Professor Gibbs - a Bristol Vet School graduate - quoted some truly frightening statistics in his lecture entitled ‘No longer an island – disease challenges in a shrinking world’. He explained that 75% of emerging diseases were zoonotic, that viruses were the most common and that 60% of pathogens were zoonotic. He also made the point that “In relation to animal pathogens and their international movements, the world is a mere village. Man is an ever-increasing and frequent world traveller. Animals and animal products travel with him. We must never forget that pathogens are also frequent fliers”. Given the European Commission’s emphasis on biosecurity in terms of farm animals, it is somewhat hard to understand their eagerness to harmonise pet travel rules. In 2003 European regulations were introduced to cover the animal health requirements applicable to the non-commercial movement of pet animals entering Member States from third countries. These requirements included blood testing, quarantine and tick and tapeworm treatments. The regulations also provided a five year transitional derogation for pet dogs, cats and ferrets entering the UK from other Member States. This derogation, which also applies to Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Malta has subsequently been extended for a further two years until July 2010. The Commission is currently working on an impact assessment on the regulation, setting out the effects of the current rules and looking at options for the future once the derogation expires. The BVA is in no doubt that the derogation is a vital tool in balancing the free movement of animals against the public health risks associated with the importation of serious zoonotic diseases such echinococcosis and rabies It is patently clear from the increasing number of pet animals entering the UK that the existing requirements are not acting as an impediment to movement. However, even given limited surveillance data, it is also patently clear that this rise in pet animal movements is leading to an increase in the incidence of animal disease such as leishmaniasis and babesiosis here in the UK. It is for this reason, as Defra Ministers and officials will be well aware, that we are currently lobbying both for the voluntary Dog and Cat Travel and Risk Information (DACTARI) scheme to be made mandatory and for the transitional arrangements to be made permanent. Also, as part of the European Veterinary Week roadshow promoting ‘Prevention is Better than Cure’ that I referred to earlier, the BVA, in conjunction with the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, is holding a ‘PETS or pests?’ discussion forum on balancing pet travel and disease control. This event is to be held at the BSAVA Congress in Birmingham and we hope to be joined by our equally concerned colleagues from the other countries covered by the derogation as well as colleagues from the public health and medical fields. Even the very best biosecurity and surveillance systems can, however, be brought to their knees by the power of nature. Whatever the rights or wrongs, morally as opposed to legally, of some farmers choosing to import livestock from areas in mainland Europe where Bluetongue is known to be circulating – and the BVA last November called for the suspension of imports – it was midges travelling on air currents, aided undoubtedly by climate change, that brought Bluetongue to our shores. While the approach to Bluetongue has varied throughout the devolved regions, the BVA was delighted to join Defra’s Bluetongue Core Group and to play its part in the industry campaign group, JAB (Joint campaign Against Bluetongue). It has proved to be one of the most widespread vaccination campaigns in the history of animal vaccines. Sadly, as the Protection Zones expanded to cover all of England and Wales, uptake slowed perhaps as a degree of complacency crept in as we saw no evidence of the disease circulating in the UK midge population. However, the threat from Bluetongue still remains very real with vaccination the only effective protective measure. We need to look to leadership not only from the farming industry and the veterinary surgeons who play a key role in that industry but also from Government in rekindling the momentum at this crucial time in the control of the disease. As an example of Cost & Responsibility Sharing in action, marked by a genuine partnership between Government and all industry stakeholders, with shared decision-making, the response to the intrusion of Bluetongue provides an early model, particularly the excellent uptake in the initial Protection Zones. Not only can we learn from this model about what can work in sharing responsibility but also what did not. Without wishing to prejudge either the content of, or our response to, the Government’s consultation document on sharing the costs and responsibilities of animal health I cannot let this moment pass without saying that we have genuine concerns at the suggestion that it might propose that animal health and welfare be separated – these two significant issues are in our mind mutually dependent and to split them could seriously undermine both the health and welfare of the animals we all care for. We would also Minister commend consideration of evidence-based disease categorisation, which we believe could be useful in considering disease specific responsibility and cost sharing issues. We do of course appreciate the difficulties of such an approach but, to further this discussion, we have already submitted to Defra a draft veterinary perspective on notifiable diseases, which I am happy to acknowledge, is based on that applied to emergency animal diseases in the Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan. You will not I am sure Minister, be surprised to learn that we also believe that Government should continue its commitment to animal health and welfare research and development in recognition of the broader public benefit of this research. As BVA has said repeatedly, and at the risk of repeating myself, there is public benefit in the prevention of expensive epizootic diseases such as foot and mouth, in disease surveillance, in the elimination of zoonotic diseases like tuberculosis, and of course in food safety. For our part the BVA commits to working with Government and industry stakeholders to develop and implement improvements to our animal health and welfare system. Having referred in passing to tuberculosis, I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without commenting further on what is one of the UK’s most difficult animal health issues, with control measures costing the livestock industry and Government millions of pounds a year. The continuing spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) within cattle and wildlife (particularly badgers but also other susceptible species such as deer) has not only an unacceptable impact on animal health and welfare but also the potential for being a very serious risk to public health. And I also believe we should not forget the health and welfare of our farming communities. We do, of course, understand the sensibilities surrounding the perception of the badger in the nation’s psyche but would make a plea on behalf of the bovine species, which rather than roaming at will, provide mankind worldwide with milk, meat and indeed clothing. Here I should declare an interest, as the wife of a recently retired dairy farmer in Cornwall, but I want to assure the Farming Minister Jane Kennedy that the industry is one that embraces and manages risk; an industry that does take great responsibility for animal health and welfare standards; and an industry that does contribute to the long-term sustainability of rural communities. Clearly the eradication of bTB from both the cattle and wildlife populations must be the ultimate aim - otherwise why would Government have set up a TB Eradication Group - but, as veterinary scientists and practitioners, we remain convinced that steps need to be taken immediately, and humanely, to control the spread of infection in all susceptible species. Only then can we move on to eradication. Possibly as hard to eradicate are genetically inherited problems within our animal populations. Despite the work of the Canine Health Schemes (CHS), set up by the BVA/Kennel Club some 40 years ago and designed to improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, the profession has had ongoing concerns about inherited defects. As a result of these concerns the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation’s 2008 Discussion Forum last May addressed ‘Designer Animals or Breeding for Welfare’ – and yes, a television crew from the BBC’s ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ was present. The issue has also been addressed by our Ethics and Welfare Group, resulting in our call for an independent review of the breeding of all dogs as well as the permanent identification of all registered pedigree dogs. I am delighted that the Kennel Club has announced that, in order to participate in the CHS from January 2010, all dogs will have to be either microchipped or tattooed and am also delighted to confirm that the BVA/KC are considering adding additional conditions to the CHS – elbows, eyes and hips are currently included – as a result of scientific developments. While neither the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare’s review on the breeding of pedigree dogs nor the KC/Dogs Trust’s initiated Bateson review are as wide-ranging as the one the BVA has called for we are working closely with both and are committed to ensuring that recent, and ongoing, scientific advances are used to the benefit of the animals under our care. Those of us in private veterinary practice are well aware that we are in a position of trust. We advise our clients on issues of health and welfare, specifically on their duty of care under the Animal Welfare Act, not only for farm animals but also for the increasingly numbers of companion animals and horses that we have under our care. We advise on herd and flock health schemes and on the risks of importing disease whether Bluetongue from Northern Europe or tuberculosis from high-risk areas in England and Wales. And we advise on measures that can be implemented to mitigate these risks where there are no alternative sources. 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, working with our clients, to recognise exotic disease and initiate the systems that we have in place to control and eradicate any outbreak. As a profession we have much to offer in terms of knowledge and expertise. We are willing and able to play a greater part in our industry's efforts to turn the threats into challenges. But we cannot do so if we no longer exist in adequate numbers and the BVA has grave concerns about the decline in farm animal practitioners and in the advancing age of those remaining! But that is a subject for an ongoing debate with Defra and you will be pleased to hear I am leaving that one for another day. As Professor Gibbs said when addressing BVA Congress: “Whether we are involved in clinical practice, research, regulatory medicine, academia, or industry, our role as veterinarians, in meeting the challenge of emerging diseases and zoonoses, is to inform and educate at all levels, wherever, and whenever, we can.” I hope he would approve of my having used this platform tonight to endeavour to so do. Thank you.

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