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TWO quite separate commentaries in this week's Veterinary Record – one on psoroptic mange in cattle, the other discussing vets' role in food safety – are both interesting in their own right. However, they also have wider relevance in the context of government moves to free food producers from unnecessary bureaucracy, changes in the arrangements for veterinary surveillance, and the changing relationship between veterinarians and the state.
In an Editorial on pp 357–358, Richard Wall, of the Veterinary Parasitology and Ecology Group at the University of Bristol, discusses the implications of a paper in Veterinary Record by E. S. Mitchell and colleagues of the AHVLA describing the clinical features and treatments employed in 23 incidents of psoroptic mange in cattle in England and Wales (22 in Wales, one in England), diagnosed between 2007 and 2011 (Mitchell and others 2012 – summarised on p 359 of this issue). Until these incidents, the disease had not been reported in Great Britain since the 1980s. Psoroptic mange of cattle is not notifiable. It has both economic and animal welfare implications and, as the authors point out, could become endemic in Great Britain.
Mitchell and others' description of the emergence of this disease serves to highlight the importance of veterinary surveillance and investigation. As the AHVLA seeks to find new ways of delivering surveillance, it illustrates precisely the kind of activity that any new system must retain. In his editorial, Professor Wall makes some pertinent comments about UK research capability in veterinary parasitology, which remains necessary, and could be becoming more so, but has dwindled over the years as research priorities have changed.
Such concerns are relevant in the context of the AHVLA's surveillance review (VR, January 14, 2012, vol 170, p 34) and its recent rationalisation of its laboratory services (VR, October 1, 2011, vol 169, p 348). In March, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee wrote to the agriculture minister, Jim Paice, expressing concern about the effects of the rationalisation on the AHVLA's ability to diagnose important animal diseases (VR, March 17, 2012, vol 170, p 270); now, the Welsh Affairs Committee has added its voice to those concerns. In a letter to the minister last week, the select committee sought reassurances about the future of the AHVLA's regional laboratories in Wales, noting that the close relationship between farmers, local vets and AHVLA staff was vital for intelligence gathering and the identification of new and emerging diseases, and drawing attention to the potential impact of loss of staff expertise (see p 347 of this issue).
In an unrelated Viewpoint article on pp 365–366, Kenneth Clarke, president of the Veterinary Public Health Association, discusses the role of vets in helping to ensure food safety, with particular reference to meat hygiene. He makes the distinction between audit and inspection, noting that the two often get conflated, when really they should be considered separately. He draws attention, too, to the potential for conflict in vets' role as adviser and enforcer, suggesting that this can impede opportunities for them to make maximum use of their knowledge and skills throughout the food production chain. The potential for such conflict is not new, nor is it confined to meat inspection, and it may be resolved as vets strive to fulfil their role as honest broker. However, it is likely to be subject to increased attention, and roles may need to be clarified, if, as the Government seems to hope, more of the veterinary activities traditionally undertaken by the state move into the private sector.
All of these issues – deciding which diseases are important and how they will be dealt with; how surveillance and related activities will be prioritised, paid for and managed; and whether practitioners can fulfil their roles in relation to both animal welfare and safe, increased food production – will come into sharper focus as the Government moves forward on cost and responsibility sharing and the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England comes fully on stream. Resolving them satisfactorily will be no small task.
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