British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Simon Doherty has highlighted the key role which veterinarians will play in delivering for Northern Ireland’s farming and food industry in a post Brexit world.
Speaking at the organisation’s annual Northern Irelanddinner he highlighted the key role which the profession will undertake in ensuring that all relevant animal and meat inspection requirements are met as the local food industry strives to retain its traditional markets while, at the same time, securing new ones around the world.
Mr Doherty specifically called on the government not to restrict the entry into the UK of highly qualified veterinarians from countries within the EU-27.
He said: “We’re very fortunate to have some fantastic EU vets who have come to work in Northern Ireland. It’s incumbent on us all to make sure this status quo is maintained.”
He added that vets must be re-instated on the UK’s shortage occupation list, saying: “This would give a critical vote of confidence in the veterinary workforce and the multiple benefits it realises while also helping to safeguard against a crisis in capacity after Brexit.”
This call came amid growing concerns about how withdrawal from the European Union may impact on vets working in Northern Ireland, especially in the event of a no deal Brexit.
According to Mr Doherty, if no agreement is reached, there could be a surge in demand for veterinary checks on animals and animal products at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The required workforce will be stretched further if more vets are required to carry out rabies vaccination and testing under more stringent pet travel requirements.
He continued: “A no deal scenario could pose huge problems in terms of the increased demand on veterinary capacity both north and south of the border. With no agreed ‘backstop’ in place, we could see a surge in demand for border checks on animals and animal products in order to comply with World Trade Organisation requirements.
“We are seeking urgent clarification on what this means for the workforce as well as the current straightforward system for transporting companion, competitive and farm animals between Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
Mr Doherty praised the cross-sector work underway in Northern Ireland both to research and protect against diseases, and to tackle the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance in both animal and human health.
Discussing the STAMP (Strategic Antimicrobial use in Dairy, Beef and Lamb Production) project, which is bringing together vets, farmers, processors and wider industry to work towards ambitious UK targets for reducing antimicrobial usage in farm animals, he said:
“Whenever Northern Ireland gets its teeth into a health issue a huge amount can be achieved thanks to the small but strong networks in place. We will look forward to seeing the strategy and the outputs from the project in due course.”
Mr Doherty expressed disappointment that there is no Northern Ireland Assembly in place to help push forward and champion the huge amount of work going on across animal health and welfare priority areas.
He said: “All I can say is that this work will continue to gather ground, and the veterinary world is ready to pick up where we left off with key Stormont decision makers when the assembly is brought back into being.”
Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Permanent Secretary Denis McMahon also spoke at the BVA dinner. He highlighted the critical role which vets play in delivering for Northern Ireland’s farming and food sectors.
He was also conscious of the close levels of co-operation now being achieved between the veterinary and medical professions in grappling with the challenge of antimicrobial resistance.
Turning to Brexit, Mr McMahon confirmed the tremendous response received from agri food stakeholder groups to the recent DAERA public consultation process, adding.
“All of the responses will be thoroughly analysed. However, these will not restrain in any way the future decisions on farm policy that will be taken by a future Executive minister.”
Commenting on the new powers which the Civil Service in Northern Ireland now has, courtesy of the legislation rushed through the Houses of Parliament this week, Mr McMahon said that DAERA will seek to use its new position of authority in the public interest.
West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer has said that local vets are crucial to the rural economy and Brexit will create major challenges for the profession.
Mr McAleer, who hosted the BVA annual dinner at Stormont, paid tribute to the work that the BVA carries out in providing a strong veterinary voice for it’s 17,000 members and acknowledged the crucial role that the BVA playsin protecting and promoting animal health and welfare.
He added: “This is particularly important as we head towards Brexit and the challenges this will create for trade, funding, availability of vets from other countries and north-south co-operation that has enabled the island of Ireland to be treated as a single epidemiological unit for animal health and welfare purposes.”