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Debate in a changing climate

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BVA Congress is fast approaching and the theme for the meeting — ‘Vets in a changing environment’ — could hardly be more topical. It was only last week, for example, that defra's chief scientist, Professor Robert Watson, sparked controversy in the national press by suggesting that, while the uk should make every effort to limit global warming, it should also take steps to prepare for global climate change of up to 4°C. The arguments related to whether this would simply be a sensible precaution or whether, given that the effects of such a large global temperature rise would be so catastrophic, his warning could be counterproductive. The concern was that, if people came to believe that it might be possible to adapt to such an extreme global temperature change, they would make less effort to stop it happening.

Professor Watson will be giving the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at the congress, and his subject will be ‘Climate change: the global challenge’.

Concern about the effects of climate change, as well as uncertainties surrounding future fuel supplies and the challenges of feeding a growing world population, have rekindled interest in the issue of food security, and the Government has recently published a discussion paper on the subject which presents a less complacent analysis of the situation than has been the case for some time (see VR, July 26, 2008, vol 163, p 97). Some of the changes that are occurring potentially present opportunities for uk producers: debates at the congress will consider how livestock farmers might adapt to this changing environment and how vet can help — by helping to maximise production efficiency, for example, while minimising the environmental impact.

The changing environment also brings new disease challenges, and control strategies need to be adapted accordingly. A congress debate will look at control measures applied during infectious disease outbreaks and consider whether these are appropriate, while another session will provide an update on bluetongue. A debate on cost and responsibility sharing on animal health promises to be equally topical, particularly, perhaps, in the light of the Government's recently announced plans to establish a partnership group in relation to bovine tb (see VR, August 9, 2008, vol 163, p 165).

While many of the congress debates will be concerned with how vets can help in a changing environment, others will consider how changes impacting on the profession itself are affecting its ability to do so. One will look at red tape in relation to veterinary medicines and ask whether the Government is being overly pragmatic in its approach or whether it can be accused of gold-plating. Another will examine whether veterinary education adequately equips new graduates for the realities of practice and other challenges ahead. A debate entitled ‘Vets? Who needs them?’ seems timely in the light of some of the issues highlighted by the recent inquiry by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee into whether a new Veterinary Surgeons Act is needed (see, for example, VR, August 2, 2008, vol 163, p 129). It will consider the extent to which others can safely undertake veterinary tasks, and how paraprofessional activity should be regulated.

As well as politics, the congress will include a substantial cpd element, making use of the expertise available in bva divisions and other congress partner organisations. Many of the cpd sessions will reflect the main congress theme with, for example, a session organised by the Sheep Veterinary Society discussing flock health planning and sessions organised by the British Cattle Veterinary Association looking at ways of improving production efficiency. A programme organised by the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons includes consideration of the future of farm animal practice, while a session organised by the Association of Government Veterinarians will examine the response to notifiable disease outbreaks. A session organised by the British Veterinary Zoological Society will consider the impact of emerging diseases on zoos, while the bva Overseas Group has organised a programme examining the close interdependence of animals and humans.

Companion animal cpd will be available through programmes devised by the Royal Veterinary College and the bsava's Metropolitan Region, covering developments in cardiology, ophthalmology and orthopaedics, while the British Equine Veterinary Association will be providing a session on equine dentistry. The Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association has organised presentations on research involving animals. A session provided by the Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work will look at how universities and practices work together in providing extramural studies placements for veterinary students.

With its combination of cpd and politics, the bva Congress provides a unique opportunity to catch up on developments affecting the profession while contributing to the debate on issues that are shaping its future. The congress will take place in London from September 25 to 27. More information and registration details are available on the bva website at

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