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Facing up to the difficult questions…

by
01 November 2015, at 12:00am

RICHARD GARD presents the first of his reports from the recent congress of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, oncentrating on some of the more contentious issues

LAST month’s BCVA congress in Southport attracted some 500 delegates including over 170 cattle veterinary surgeons from practice.

There was a continuous buzz around the conference centre as people moved from one lecture hall to another. In order to attend one of the four parallel sessions, everyone passed through the exhibition area.

Tea, coffee, lunch and pre-dinner receptions were held within the stands and there was plenty of opportunity for delegates to be impressed with a variety of offerings including pens, hats, pads, stressrelieving squeezies, phone chargers and, of course, technical information.

The award for the best stand was presented to Vetsonic UK from Malton, Yorkshire. The stand included a wide range of products from instruments to medicines and unsuspecting passers-by were invited to experience being a calf pulled from the womb with ropes attached.

Once trussed, the vet was able to appreciate the products on show before being released with some takehome goodies. This unusual marketing approach was clearly enjoyed by the participants.

One of the less obvious benefits of the arrangements was that the speakers came amongst the delegates after each session and it was noticeable that intense conversations took place throughout the three days. Laptops were interrogated to support conclusions and ideas.

Speakers also used this area to refresh their presentations before making public pronouncements and sometimes used the time to get a reaction to a contentious item, of which there were plenty.

Neil Blake, the incoming BCVA president, and Andrew Cobner, incoming vice-president, highlighted some of the ongoing issues for the press. This is the second year there has been a press briefing, arranged by former president Declan O’Rourke.

One of the main thrusts for the coming year is to establish, through liaison groups, that the co-ordination of control measures requires the application of all disease control measures. There is an increasing realisation that these measures are not independent of one another and that putting emphasis in one area does not offer a full solution.

In particular, the industry-led initiative for the eradication of BVD and the local bTB group initiatives were mentioned and increasing engagement with the national cattle database and livestock auctioneers is expected to improve risk-based trading.

Other topics discussed included developments with the responsible use of medicines, concerns over the spending review, ongoing issues with disease surveillance and the threats to the future of cattle veterinary practice.

These aspects, including sessions on practice business future-proofing, were highlighted by speakers within the congress programme. Full details of BCVA commitments for the coming year are available via www.bcva.org.uk.

Question time

It has become something of a tradition that invited guests are subjected to questions from the delegates without the panel having advance notice of what is to come. Andrew Taylor put the questions and Minette Batters (deputy president of the NFU), Robert Huey (CVO for Northern Ireland NI), Professor Stuart Reid (principal of the RVC and senior vice-president of the RCVS) and Donal Murphy (head of technical and regulatory affairs of NOAH) gave their heartfelt responses. Any misrepresentation of the many points made is accidental.

The first three questions concerned aspects of surveillance, including how it was to be achieved with a reducing budget and the threats from the incursion of exotic diseases and foot-and-mouth disease.

Robert Huey explained that Northern Ireland is planning to have enough facilities to respond effectively over the first 48 hours of an outbreak. Funding is clearly an issue of concern but with consideration and experience he believes that post-mortem examinations ought to be conducted by pathologists, not practitioners. Even if uncertain of the cause, a pathologist is trained to detect the unusual and his aim is for “proper laboratory-based surveillance”.

The cost of laboratory testing is a growing problem, with sample testing in Holland being half the cost of sending samples to Weybridge, in some circumstances. The test results from private laboratories are not available to the state and this is one area where surveillance could be further developed with the co-operation of veterinary practices and their clients.

Donal Murphy highlighted the issue of vaccination for FMD and the need for public acceptance of meat from vaccinated animals. In order to plan ahead for early warning of disease there needs to be “a strong network of rural veterinary practices”, he said.

Big challenge

A stringent point was made by Minette Batters that there is a big challenge to keep animal production in line with our defence systems and that working in partnership is much talked about but is not yet happening. The government continues to source food globally and this increases the supply chain risks. Food security in the UK is taken for granted by government and the public, she said.

Greater food self-sufficiency, produced to strict standards, would offer greater confidence to farmers and the public. Government should retain responsibility for surveillance.

Professor Reid emphasised that enough capable people need to be trained to meet future challenges. The food industry is a chain and there needs to be cost sharing across the whole chain.

There were a number of questions relating to the recent survey of job dissatisfaction with new graduates carrying out cattle work. Professor Reid pointed out that other professions have similar survey outcomes. Families need two salaries today and this makes moving around more difficult.

In terms of the female stocking rate in veterinary colleges, it was a fact that, at the time of applying to university, girls are better organised than boys, he said. Their applications are often more thorough with evidence of relevant supporting activities.

Donal Murphy responded to a question about antibiotic prescribing by highlighting that it is expected that vets will have to provide data of onfarm antibiotic use. EU clarification on this is expected in 2018.

MEPs have indicated strongly that they do not like prescribing and dispensing by the same vet and that a physical examination of animals should be required before dispensing, which may mean a greater veterinary presence on-farm.

Robert Huey expressed concern about internet pharmacies, stating that any concerns about medicines should “be brought into the open and then vets can answer the issues”.

Responding to a question about how the UK dairy industry could be safeguarded from market fluctuations, Minette Batters expressed deep concern about the current situation. She felt that approximately 20% of dairy farmers are in a good trading position but that 25% will struggle to survive this winter.

Many farmers are suffering very low prices, below the cost of production, and some milk buyers are also in financial trouble, she said. The supply chain is “knackered” and the UK is not set up to export milk. Seismic change is needed with emergency measures required to save the UK milk industry.

The public do not want big agribusiness to wipe out smaller farmers, she said, adding that she takes exception to suggestions that big business is the only way forward.

The point was made from the floor that it is difficult to share costs if neither party has any money and that the livelihoods of veterinary surgeons and farmers are intrinsically linked.

  • The 2016 BCVA congress will be held at Hinckley, Leics., from 20th to 22nd October.