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NEWS last week that the uk had finally been declared officially free of avian influenza following the outbreak in Oxfordshire in June this year provides a useful reminder of the disruption disease outbreaks can cause. The uk has not been able to export poultry and poultry products to countries outside the eu for 12 months now, since an outbreak of avian influenza in East Anglia last November, when it was simultaneously grappling with outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and bluetongue. The uk may have suffered fewer notifiable disease outbreaks in 2008 than in 2007, but the risk is ever present and there is certainly no room for complacency, as the identification of bluetongue virus serotype 1 in imported cattle in Lancashire this week demonstrates all too clearly. Equally, as a glance through the agenda for next week's bva Council meeting indicates (see p 664 of this issue), there is no shortage of issues confronting the veterinary profession, some of which will undoubtedly have an impact on how effectively disease outbreaks can be prevented and dealt with in the future.
Top of the list in this context will be a discussion on responsibility and cost sharing. It has been clear for some time that defra and the European Union (eu) are changing their approach to farm animal health and welfare, and are keen to move towards a system where producers contribute more towards the costs of dealing with disease outbreaks while having greater input into decisions on how that money is spent. However, at a time when defra itself is undergoing significant changes, and with the eu having recently agreed an action plan for implementing its animal health strategy, the issue is coming to a head. defra published a preliminary consultation on the subject last December and has promised a more detailed consultation document before the end of this year. The bva's Council will hear a presentation from defra on how its plans are developing, and will have an opportunity to formulate its own ideas on what might be best in terms of safeguarding animal health.
As part of the discussion, the Council will be able to take account of the bva's response to defra's original consultation on cost and responsibility sharing (see VR, April 26, 2008, vol 162, p 529), as well as its more recent submission to defra's review of the England Implementation Group (eig), the advisory committee set up by the Government three years ago with the unenviable task of ‘driving forward delivery of the vision and strategic aims of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy for Great Britain (ahws) in England’. This review was announced by the Government in September to assess, among other things, the performance of the eig and its continuing relevance and role in the ‘wider evolving landscape of stakeholder bodies in farming and food’, especially ‘a forthcoming animal health and welfare responsibility and cost sharing body’ (see VR, September 13, 2008, vol 163, p 313). In its response, the bva argued that the eig has provided a useful forum for appraising developments in the ahws, but that its effectiveness has been hampered by the nature of its remit and limited powers. It suggested that the problem is due partly to the fact that the eig is charged with delivering the strategy in England only, whereas disease issues need to be tackled on a Great Britain-wide basis, and partly to the ‘aspirational nature’ of much of the ahws. It noted that more progress had been made in some areas than others, expressing disappointment at a lack of progress on companion animal issues. Looking ahead, it suggested that the eig might be well placed to help in the development of an overarching body for animal heath and welfare, and to participate in the development of responsibility and cost sharing.
Other items for discussion at the Council meeting include the bva's position on a new Veterinary Surgeons Act following publication of the Government's response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee's report on the subject in July (see VR, August 2, 2008, vol 163, p 129); there will also be a presentation from the British Equine Veterinary Association on regulating the activities of equine paraprofessionals. Reflecting the increasing significance of the veterinary profession's role in global animal and public health in the light of the challenges presented by emerging diseases, climate change and sustainable development, the meeting will also consider a proposal from the bva Board that the bva's Overseas Group should become a standing committee of the Council.
The Association's Ethics and Welfare Group recently became a standing committee and the Council will receive an update on its activities. With rising public expectations and the development of new techniques to treat and prolong the lives of animals, veterinary surgeons are being called on to make increasingly complex decisions on behalf of their clients and patients, and issues being addressed by the committee include the role of the vet in treatment choice and also euthanasia. It has also been looking at some of the issues associated with dog breeding, which have recently attracted wide publicity.
With reports from other committees covering issues as diverse as food security and the disease risks associated with pet travel, there will clearly be much to consider at the Council meeting. The busy agenda serves to illustrate the central importance of vets to society, and the range of issues with which they are involved.