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A manifesto for animal health and welfare

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MEMBERS of the main political parties at Westminster might still be arguing about what they should put in their General Election manifestos, but the BVA has already decided what it wants to see after the election on May 7, whichever party (or parties) forms the next Government. In its own manifesto, which was launched in London last week, the BVA issues ‘a call to action for politicians and policymakers’ and sets out a number of recommendations which, it believes, provide a clear pathway to improving animal health and welfare.

In an introduction to the document, John Blackwell, the Association's president, notes that veterinary surgeons are ‘on the front line caring for animals, detecting and treating disease, and undertaking pioneering research into animal and public health’. They work ‘at the cutting edge of science and at the heart of the communities in which they practise’. As such, he argues, they are in a unique position from which to offer the next Government evidence-based and informed advice.

The veterinary profession may be relatively small but, says Mr Blackwell, ‘our reach is significant and our role is critical to the health and welfare of not only animals, but the rest of society too.’ The next Government, he says, ‘must champion the concept of One Health – recognising that the health of humans is inextricably linked to the health of animals – and listen to the strong veterinary voice in developing policy’.

In just a few concise pages, the manifesto summarises the BVA's current policies and concerns and makes recommendations in three key areas: safeguarding animal health, promoting animal welfare, and recognising the vital role of vets to society.

On safeguarding animal health, it recommends that the next Government should ‘protect the UK from exotic disease through better enforcement of pet travel rules, and maintaining a robust and coordinated surveillance network’ and that it should ‘support vets and farmers to combat endemic livestock diseases and maintain a comprehensive approach to tackling bovine TB’. It should also ‘lobby in Europe to protect the veterinary surgeon's right to prescribe and privilege to dispense veterinary medicines, to ensure the internet sale of medicines is safe, responsible and accredited’ and ‘continue to support the responsible use of antimicrobials to safeguard their future use in animals and humans’. In addition, says the BVA, the next Government should ‘recognise the societal benefits of companion animals to the health and wellbeing of their owners and others by committing more resources to companion animal health issues and research within Defra’.

Regarding animal welfare, it recommends that the next Government should ‘improve the welfare of millions of animals by requiring all animals to be stunned before slaughter to ensure they are insensible to pain’ and that, in the short term, it should ‘reduce the welfare harm of non-stun slaughter by introducing immediate post-cut stunning and clearer labelling of meat as stunned or non-stunned to allow consumers to make an informed choice’. It calls for an overhaul of legislation on the sale of pets to ‘reflect the internet age and update dog breeding and licensing laws to ensure best practice in the production and sale of companion animals’. It also calls for implementation of legislation to tackle the problems of fly grazing and horse abandonment, and for the horse passport system to be updated.

Other recommendations on animal welfare concern issues such as the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, the keeping of primates as pets, and the sale and ownership of exotic species as pets. In a recommendation that applies across a number of sectors, the BVA also draws attention to the need to provide adequate resources to local authorities to enforce animal welfare, animal disease and food safety legislation effectively.

Discussing the role of vets in society, the manifesto points out that many of the activities undertaken by veterinary surgeons – ‘from disease surveillance and eradication to service delivery and education in the community to frontline research’ – are for the public good, and that, without veterinary surgeons, there would be no trade in animals and animal products. It also draws attention to the BVA's concerns that measures aimed at reducing government costs could undermine the UK's network of veterinary practices, with an associated impact on animal health and welfare and disease preparedness.

Among its recommendations in this area are that the next Government should maintain and promote veterinary expertise in government departments and agencies, and recognise the value of veterinary input to both the development and implementation of policies. It should also ensure that the provision of Official Veterinarian services under the new tendering arrangements ‘recognises the expertise and knowledge that local veterinary surgeons have within their local areas’ and that the system ‘does not negatively impact upon the UK's veterinary practice infrastructure, creating black holes of service provision’. In addition, it should ensure that paraprofessionals working in the animal care sector are well regulated and working alongside veterinary surgeons as part of a veterinary-led team. Noting that a positive relationship between vets and government is vital, the BVA calls on the next Government to ‘embrace partnership working between government and the veterinary profession, recognising the unique skills, knowledge and expertise of veterinary surgeons across animal health and welfare and public health.’

The manifesto does a good job in highlighting veterinary surgeons' role in society and summarising the BVA's current concerns and policies – and with a General Election fast approaching it is certainly timely. However, given the fundamental and ongoing nature of some of the issues discussed, it is much more than a pre-election wish list. The recommendations should be taken seriously by politicians both before and long after the polling booths have closed.

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