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Animal health in a nutshell

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THEY say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but the cover of Animal Health 2008, the latest annual report from the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), is interesting because, while four of the six photographs featured show pictures of animals, two don't include any animals at all.* One shows a sunny blue sky behind healthy green trees, while the other shows rolling countryside. Presumably this is intended to reflect increased interest in the environment across all walks of life, including veterinary activity — an impression that is reinforced by comments in the report about the disease challenges presented by climate change and a remark from the CVO that 'Action to reduce the climate change impact of livestock production, or the response of producers to climate change itself, may alter the location, structure and operation of our livestock industries, again affecting the risk of disease and potentially impacting on animal welfare.'

This latest annual report from the CVO is a very different animal from previous CVOs' reports, reflecting changes in the Government's approach to animal health and welfare and changes in the structures available for managing them. This is immediately obvious from the first chapter which, reflecting the fact that animal health and welfare policy is fully devolved to the national administrations of the UK, includes separate overviews of activities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as across the UK. However, changes in the way animal health and welfare are now being managed are further illustrated by the next chapter, which discusses the activities of Defra's many 'delivery partners', including not just Animal Health, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, the Meat Hygiene Service, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Scottish Agricultural College, which might be the first organisations that spring to mind, but others, including local authorities, fisheries organisations and the Rural Payments Agency. The report clearly illustrates just how many organisations are involved in safeguarding animal health and welfare, and the breadth of activities this entails. In the process, it also serves to highlight the importance of ensuring that efforts are coordinated, and the challenges that must be involved in pulling all the different strands together.

The section on devolution is interesting because, while discussing how activities are being coordinated, it also illustrates how policies are diverging. This is most notable, perhaps, in the case of bovine TB, but there are other examples, such as approaches to vaccination against bluetongue, farm health planning and companion animal welfare. Devolution is one of the topics to be discussed at the annual BVA Congress in Cardiff later this month, when a panel made up of the CVOs for Defra and the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be available to answer questions on its impact on animal health.

The bulk of the CVO's annual report is structured around the reasons for government intervention in the field of animal health as set out in the 2004 Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (AHWS), namely: to protect human health; to protect and promote the welfare of animals; to protect the interests of the wide economy, environment and society; and to protect international trade. It also outlines the steps that have been taken to implement the major themes of the strategy, such as working in partnership, disease prevention rather than cure, and sharing responsibilities and costs. Reflecting the broader scope of the strategy, it covers a wider range of species and interests than was the case in CVOs' annual reports a few years ago, when the Government's primary interest in animal health related to agriculture and trade. Like previous reports, it provides much useful information on Britain's animal health status, as well as indicating areas where progress has (and has not) been made. However, by placing this in the context of the AHWS and the changing nature of government, it does a particularly good job of explaining where current priorities, and future challenges, lie.

This makes a comment from the CVO that, in the coming year, he intends to review whether there is a continuing need for the annual report all the more surprising. It is true that, as the CVO suggests, a large amount of information is now provided electronically on government websites and in the annual reports of national administrations and Defra's delivery partners, but nowhere else is so much useful information available in such a concise, consolidated and easily assimilable form. The increasing amount of information made available through websites, and the proliferation of agencies involved in animal health, makes considered reports like this more, not less, important, and its demise would be a significant loss.

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