BVA urges retention of vets’ role in food safety

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has urged Defra not to downgrade the role of vets in food safety and animal health and welfare, after leaked papers suggested ministers were considering making cuts on farm checks and using ‘non-vets’ to look for disease in animals.

The Guardian reported yesterday (26 November) that leaked documents from a Defra meeting showed there could be cuts on inspections that check for bird flu, salmonella and TB.

BVA president John Blackwell said: “We cannot overstate the importance of any cuts or changes being carefully considered from a fully informed perspective and with an eye to long-term consequences, not simply short-term expediency. Cuts cannot come at the expense of animal welfare and health, which, if compromised, can have serious consequences for human health and food production.”

The article said the leaked paper examined the feasibility of reducing 45 forms of animal welfare, farm and environmental inspections. Options being considered were the use of ‘non-vets’ to look for bovine TB in cattle; putting the responsibility for salmonella testing on farmers; and moving responsibility for poultry, meat and marketing inspections to “an approved external body”. It added that the document suggested “government could lobby industry assurance schemes to take responsibility, since this is a consumer protection issue”.

Blackwell continued: “Defra works closely with vets and is aware of the critical role vets play in disease surveillance – Defra’s own survey highlights that local vets are a trusted source of key information to their clients and this is fundamental to ensuring robust disease control and eradication strategies. If these reports are true, our message to Defra is don’t downgrade the role of vets in food safety and animal health and welfare. It is important to stress that any attempt to reduce regulation by government should not increase risk by reducing the pivotal role vets carry out in public health and food safety, alongside animal health and welfare.”