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Scotland takes the lead

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‘COURAGEOUS’ was how the European authorities described Scotland’s novel proposals for implementing reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) when these were presented last year. The European spotlight is now very much on Scotland and the Commission is watching with interest to see how the proposals are implemented and how they work in practice. It has expressed its support for the proposals and its willingness to work with the Scottish Executive and, should the plans prove successful, may encourage other member states to follow a similar route.

Under CAP reform, Scotland has chosen to introduce ‘land management contracts’,which, it hopes, will contribute to a sustainable, prosperous agriculture sector in the country. The contracts will have three tiers: the first tier comprises the Single Farm Payment and cross compliance; the second is a ‘menu scheme’ under which farmers can chose which activities they wish to carry out depending on their individual circumstances; the third, which will be introduced in 2007, will deliver more tailored benefits.

It is the menu scheme, introduced earlier this year, that is of particular interest to veterinary surgeons. One of the options that farmers may choose from the menu is an animal health and welfare management programme. By selecting this, they commit themselves for five years and will be required to develop a programme, in conjunction with their veterinary surgeon, for actively managing animal health and welfare issues on their farm. They must fulfil two compulsory actions, namely, implementing a proactive scheme for treating animal diseases, including guidance on following a vet’s advice and treatment; and implementing a scheme for using vaccines and preventive medicines. These must be reviewed with the farmer’s veterinary surgeon on an annual basis. In other words, a five-year commitment to veterinary herd or flock health planning.

Health planning is, of course, a key part of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (AHWS). While much time and effort has been applied to developing the strategy over the past two or three years, it is proving difficult to implement in practical terms. It applies throughout Great Britain but it is up to the devolved administrations to implement it in their own way. The Scottish Executive saw an opportunity within CAP reform to kick-start the strategy, and its animal health and welfare programme may offer other benefits, too.

The challenges and difficulties facing large animal veterinary practices have been acknowledged by the Scottish Executive, and it is to be hoped that its animal health and welfare programme will not only promote animal health and welfare standards and contribute to farm business profitability and sustainability, but will also help to get practitioners back on to farms. This will be vital in terms of disease surveillance. While the £220 per year that farmers will receive for completing the two compulsory actions may not cover the cost of veterinary input into the health and welfare plan, the Scottish Executive hopes that the payment will encourage farmers to discuss with their veterinary surgeons the key animal health and welfare problems on their farms.

The animal health and welfare management programme also has a number of voluntary options that farmers might select. Should farmers choose to undertake additional inspection and monitoring of their livestock to collate performance indicators and analyse all significant animal health and welfare-related observations that arise from these inspections, and implement an action plan to measure performance, they will receive £320 per year. Again, veterinary input is required – farmers will be asked to work with their veterinary surgeon to make comparisons between their farm and other farms in the same veterinary practice area, county or across the whole of Scotland. For the year 2005/06 farmers will be asked to collect information on performance indicators and disease syndromes only, but in future years, veterinary surgeons will be required to enter this (anonymised) information into a central database, which the Scottish Executive is currently developing. Farmers could also receive payment for rounding up animals for sampling to establish the disease status of their flock or herd, or for developing a plan for biosecurity measures. In total, £1135 is available annually to farmers to help improve animal health and welfare.

The Scottish plans are not perfect. For instance, the EC insisted that pigs and poultry be excluded from the programme, on the basis that these industries already produce health plans for their animals. There is also the matter of the payments available not actually covering all the costs involved. That said, a start has to be made somewhere and some support is better than none. It is encouraging to see the level of veterinary input required in the animal health and welfare management programme. Scottish farmers have until June 6 to apply to the scheme this year, and the Scottish Executive is providing induction training for the veterinary surgeons who will be involved in it. It is keen that the profession ‘buys into’ the programme and first indications are positive, with 63 practices from across Scotland attending a recent meeting held to promote the scheme.

DEFRA has repeatedly said that veterinary surgeons are key to the AHWS, and the profession, meanwhile, is keen to work with government in moving the strategy forward. The administrations south of the border should follow Scotland’s lead and inject some pump-priming funding to get the AHWS up and running in the rest of Great Britain.

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