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How might vets respond to the challenge set out in the Lowe report that the profession should be ‘clearer and more assertive about the way it can and should deliver’ the public goods of public health and food assurance?
VETS fulfil an obvious private good function through the prevention, control and treatment of disease in their clients' livestock, and the maintenance and improvement of the economic efficiency of production. They also perform a clear public good through measures taken on farms to control food safety hazards. But what are their responsibilities in those instances where these hazards do not affect the health of the animals themselves, and have no immediate, direct bearing on the profitability of farming enterprises?
Of course, the financial wellbeing of livestock farmers is highly dependent on the price they obtain for their animals and animal products, which in turn depends on consumer confidence in their safety, and on the public's willingness to buy them. Some sectors have experienced the consequences of food scares on their businesses (that of salmonella on poultry farming, for example) and have taken steps to address them, but other food safety issues still remain a challenge in primary production.
Vets are often encouraged to assist their clients in ‘adding value’ to their products. Although a number of assurance schemes claim higher standards for animal welfare in an attempt to add value to food at point of sale, retailers have been reluctant to use food safety as a way of differentiating themselves from their market competitors. Food safety appears to be taken for granted, and the standard specifications of some assurance schemes actually contain little about animal health and food safety controls on farm.
There is now an increasing interest in the extent to which assurance schemes might be used to demonstrate compliance …