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A highly topical programme

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THE BVA Congress is just a few days away, and takes place in London from September 25 to 27. The theme is ‘Vets in a changing environment’, and, although planned well in advance, the programme looks more topical by the day. This applies not just to the ‘contentious issues’ debates planned for the congress, but to many of the sessions in the cpd programme, which has been developed in conjunction with the bva's divisions.

The most obvious example is a session on bluetongue organised by the Sheep Veterinary Society. It is two years now since bluetongue virus serotype 8 unexpectedly appeared in northern Europe and almost exactly 12 months since the first cases were confirmed in Great Britain. Over the past few months, in what can be seen as a race against time, a vaccination programme has been ‘rolled out’ on a voluntary basis in England and Wales as vaccine has become available. As has been emphasised in the ‘Don't hesitate, vaccinate’ campaign, vaccination is the main tool in the fight against this midgeborne disease, and it is vital that animals are vaccinated. After a wet summer, the annual late summer/early autumn peak in the midge population can now be expected, and will provide a test of just how effective the voluntary vaccination campaign has been. Meanwhile, as letters in both this and last week's issues of The Veterinary Record have indicated, concerns remain about levels of surveillance for bluetongue, and about the approach being taken to animals imported from mainland Europe that have been found to be infected (see VR, September 13, 2008, vol 163, pp 341-342, and p 372 of this issue). With presentations from members of the research team at the Institute for Animal Health, which successfully predicted last year's outbreak, the session at the congress will provide an update on how things stand with regard to bluetongue and identify future challenges.

Efforts to prevent bluetongue and other diseases emphasise the importance of farm health planning, and other items on the cpd programme promise to be equally topical. Sessions organised by the British Cattle Veterinary Association will look at health planning in relation to production diseases and changes in the environment, while another session organised by the Sheep Veterinary Society will draw on the experience of flock health planning in the West Midlands, focusing on the positive interaction of the farmers involved with their peers, local veterinary surgeons and specialist advisers. A programme devised by the Association of Government Veterinarians will include consideration of how — with the threat of notifiable disease outbreaks, changing patterns of endemic disease and production pressures — vets will have to consider and potentially reassess their advice to the farming industry, while a session in the management programme organised by the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons will try to find solutions to some of the challenges facing farm animal practice itself.

The companion animal programme at the congress will provide an opportunity to catch up on developments in cardiology, orthopaedics and ophthalmology, while a session organised by the British Equine Veterinary Association will consider practical and legal aspects of equine dentistry. Further congress sessions will examine issues surrounding the use of animals in research, environmental and disease challenges to wildlife conservation programmes, and the interdependence of animals and humans in both the developed and developing world.

Reflecting the main congress theme, the plenary Wooldridge Memorial lecture will be entitled ‘Climate change: the global challenge’. The speaker will be Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser at defra, who recently sparked some controversy by suggesting that, while making every effort to limit global warming, the uk should also take steps to prepare for global climate change of up to 4°C (see VR, August 16, 2008, vol 163, p 197). His talk will set the scene for some of the contentious issues debates, which will consider, among other things, the extent to which livestock farming contributes to climate change, and what vets can do to help mitigate its impact on the environment. Meanwhile, as bluetongue has demonstrated, climate change presents new challenges in terms of disease control; a further debate, entitled ‘Cull or let live?’, will examine whether current strategies for dealing with this and other ‘exotic’ diseases are appropriate.

A debate on cost and responsibility sharing is timely given the Government's apparent determination to move forward on this and its plans to issue a consultation document on the subject later this year. Most of the arguments boil down to money, but the debate will be concerned with ‘Getting the right deal for animal health’. A debate on veterinary medicines regulation is also timely, particularly in view of the fact that defra has recently embarked on a consultation on the future of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (see VR, September 13, 2008, vol 163, p 312). Further debates will consider how the role of vets might change in the event of a new Veterinary Surgeons Act, and whether new graduates are adequately equipped for the challenges they may face. The environment in which vets must operate is certainly changing. The bva Congress provides a chance to catch up with developments and hence an opportunity to plan ahead.

  • The 2008 bva Congress will be held at the Royal College of Physicians in London from September 25 to 27. Registration and other details are available at or from BVA headquarters (e-mail: bvahq{at}

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