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The importance of Official Veterinarians

The UK government is keen to increase certification capacity to cope with the expected increased demand for certification services after Brexit

07 December 2020, at 7:55am
Louise Macpherson
Louise Macpherson

Louise Macpherson has been a vet for 15 years and now spends part of her time certifying goods for export as an Official Veterinarian (OV). She started her career in North Yorkshire and now works at Taylor Veterinary Practice, a small animal practice in Glasgow which is part of IVC Evidensia. She currently works three days a week certifying products for export to countries outside the EU.

Louise mostly certifies fish and fish by-products for export, but her job also includes a wide range of other products, certifying anything from sauces to caramel wafers.

Louise says she likes the varied nature of the OV work: “I’m nosy by nature, so I like going out to different warehouses and businesses. I feel sometimes we exist in a vet bubble, so it’s really interesting to get tours around facto-ries and get to see areas I wouldn’t normally see.”

From 1 January 2021, businesses will need an export health certificate (EHC) to export animals and animal products to the EU. This supports around £5 billion of trade to the EU. Certification of live animals and products of animal origin will be undertaken by an OV or, for certain products, Food Competent Certifying Officers (FCCOs) in local authorities.

For Louise, she feels that vets will have a vital role to play in helping businesses export their goods. “I get a lot of satis-faction being part of the process, helping customers sell their products; if it wasn’t for certifying vets like me, they wouldn’t be able to sell them in certain countries overseas. It feels that my role will become even more important from January, helping farmers, traders and the country export to the EU. It makes me very happy placing a seal on a truck, seeing it going into the sunset and knowing I’ve done my bit for it to get to its destination.”

BOX (1) Would you like to do certification work?
BOX (1) Would you like to do certification work?

The government is keen to increase certification capacity to cope with the expected increased demand for certification services. One of the measures is Defra funding the required training. This includes the latest round of funding of £500,000 for OV training for the export certification of animal products, equines and ungulates and for Certification Support Officer (CSO) training. Certifying Officers can use CSOs to help them check the factual evidence and collect the documentation needed for certification of a consignment (Box 1; OV briefing note 32/20).

Louise believes there is a misconception among vets about what is involved in OV work on certification. She thinks vets worry that it might be a very technical process, and is dry and boring compared to looking after animals. However, she says it isn’t the case: “I find being an OV really varied and interesting. Each day differs depending on which products I am certifying. You don’t have to know anything about treating fish, for example, it’s very much about transferable skills. The guidance notes that accompany the EHCs may appear technical but once you drill down into them it’s not as complicated as it seems at first read (Box 2). Once you get past the language and list of legislation that applies to the products, they are usually straightforward and provide details of all the information you need to certify the goods.This usually means checking the health approval numbers of the production facilities and factories. For more complex or processed products, such as sauces, it may involve gaining an understanding of the processes, looking through companies’ HACCP plans, ingredient lists and lists of suppliers.”

BOX (2) Further information about export health certificates
BOX (2) Further information about export health certificates

Businesses have been getting in touch with Louise’s Louise Macpherson practice and they are supporting them, planning for the end of the transition period. She believes that there will be a big increase in certification work and that this provides an opportunity for practices. She would encourage vets to do the training, because there will be plenty of work out there.

“As a vet student I never imagined I would be doing this kind of work; however, it’s very enjoyable and is increasingly an important thing to do – not just for vets but for the whole country to ensure that trade keeps moving after the end of the transition period.”