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Diary of a parliamentary intern
  1. Anthony Ridge

Abstract

Anthony Ridge, parliamentary intern to Lord Trees, compares the process of preparing for a debate in the House with consulting in practice.

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Delving into the depths of EU and UK legislation was not something I thought I would ever do as part of my job, let alone enjoy. Nonetheless, preparing for a debate on a new piece of animal welfare legislation turned out to be one of the most satisfying tasks I have had in my internship so far and, to my surprise, the process was not that dissimilar to a veterinary consultation. Imagine this scenario:

A regular client (BVA) asks for an opinion on ‘waterbath stunned poultry’. It is concerned that animal welfare is compromised as some birds are remaining conscious at the time of slaughter. The animals are under the care of another practice (Defra), but BVA is seeking a second opinion. Defra has offered previous treatment to remedy this problem (legislation), but this is not effective in all cases. The client would like you to review the case and discuss the treatment options with Defra.

You decide to perform some ‘diagnostic tests’ to gather more information. These include a review of legislation (Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations [WATOK]), and EU 1099/2009), a review of scientific literature and a search for other sources of information (eg, Defra consultation, explanatory memorandum, contact other stakeholders).

Anthony Ridge's internship is supported by the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation. He is pictured (third from right) with Lord Trees (third from left) meeting with members and sponsors of the foundation at its annual general meeting at the House of Lords on January 20

The results are as follows: The cause of the welfare problem is an ineffective stun method. A third practice (EU) has made recommendations on how to stun more effectively. Defra made use of these recommendations in its treatment plan (WATOK) but left halal poultry untreated because the EU recommendation had a potential side effect (cardiac arrest) that was deemed to be unacceptable for these poultry. Interestingly, the scientific review provided some evidence for a non-lethal but effective stun method that was included in the EU's recommendations.

You discuss the case with Defra (debate in the House of Lords). You are critical of the welfare compromise and emphasise that if stunning is used it should be effective in all cases. You suggest that it may be possible to achieve this using the EU recommendations, while avoiding the side effect. Defra thanks you for your input and requests to meet to discuss this further.

In this scenario, some aspects are admittedly different from clinical practice. The ownership of the animals is complex. Diagnostic and treatment options differ and there are also many social and legislative complexities that must be considered; however, I found that a lot of parallels could be drawn. The task required a passion for animal welfare, an ability to understand scientific information, a practical approach to problem-solving and an ability to communicate well with others. These are all common attributes of veterinary professionals and I am pleased to discover that many of the skills I practised in my consulting room remain extremely valuable outside of clinical practice.

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