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Pulling together

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‘The Government have chosen to put eu laws before the welfare of the people of this country. They have let people down.’

THAT comment appeared on the bbc News website earlier this week. It had been submitted by a member of the public and referred to the way in which the avian influenza outbreak in Suffolk had been handled and the continuing uncertainty about the cause. Given the challenges of international disease control, it is not necessarily fair on the Government or, indeed, the eu. However, there is no doubt that, when it comes to animal health and welfare, decisions made by the eu determine the framework for measures applied by the uk and other member states, as experience with bse, foot-and-mouth disease and now avian influenza has illustrated. The impact of European decision-making on animal health in the uk will form an important theme of the political part of the programme of this year's bva Congress, which will examine the implications in depth.

The congress will be held in Belfast from September 28 to 29, to mark the centenary of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association (niva), and will follow a new format. Politics will clearly feature, but will form only part of the programme which, significantly, will also include a substantial cpd element, provided by various bva divisions and partner organisations. Those contributing to the programme include the Association of Veterinary Surgeons Practising in Northern Ireland, the British Cattle Veterinary Association, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association Northern Ireland, niva, the Sheep Veterinary Society, the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons, the Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work (avtrw), the Fish Veterinary Society, the Goat Veterinary Society, the Veterinary Benevolent Fund, the Veterinary Public Health Association and Veterinary Northern Ireland. The overall theme for the congress is ‘Pulling together’, reflecting the desire and, indeed, need for different elements of the veterinary profession to join forces in meeting the challenges it faces in helping to safeguard animal and human health.

The importance of the European dimension will be highlighted in the bva plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture, to be given by mep Avril Doyle, who has taken a particular interest in animal health and welfare matters and will identify issues of current concern and explain how to influence developments. Related sessions will consider the new Community Animal Health Policy that is being developed in Europe. This places a new emphasis on sharing costs and responsibilities for animal health, with the clear expectation that producers will bear more of the burden in the future. Speakers at the congress will consider the implications at European, national and practice levels.

Another political session will examine how the new Animal Welfare Act will impact on veterinary surgeons in the uk, and the role that they and others might play in helping to make sure that the good intentions of the Act are realised. Meanwhile, the British Government has called for a ‘more mature debate’ on bovine tuberculosis (tb) — ‘one which goes beyond an either/or debate about a national badger cull or farmer biosecurity’. Bovine tb presents different challenges in different parts of the British Isles, and approaches to dealing with it differ. A congress debate entitled ‘Bovine tb — learning from others’ will examine the issues and approaches being taken and seek to identify appropriate solutions.

The congress cpd programme covers a broad range of species and topics, reflecting the interests of the many organisations that are contributing. The emphasis is on subjects of direct relevance to practitioners, and practice management as well as clinical topics are included. A session being organised by the avtrw on containing national disease outbreaks is clearly pertinent in the light of recent events, while a programme developed by the bva Overseas Group should be of interest to those whose sights lie further afield. The programme is certainly much more extensive than that of bva congresses of recent years, with more than 30 sessions to choose from over the two days. Details of the sessions, as well as social and other events associated with the congress, are available on the bva's website,

With its political and cpd programmes, the bva Congress provides an excellent opportunity to share expertise, and catch up with what is happening at national and international level. This is indeed a time to pull together. Those with an interest should put the dates in their diaries now.

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