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Adapting to the new environment

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AS concern grows about the effects of climate change and other pressures on the environment, the world in which vets must operate is changing rapidly. With the theme ‘Vets in a changing environment’, this year's bva Congress, to be held in London from September 25 to 27, will consider the impact of these developments on the profession's activities, as well as regulatory and other developments that might affect its ability to fulfil its role effectively. In addition, building on the success of the new format introduced at last year's congress in Belfast, it will again include a substantial cpd element, with various bva divisions and partner organisations each bringing their own particular expertise to the proceedings.

The plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture this year will be given by Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser at defra, who will speak on ‘Climate change — the global challenge’. His talk will set the scene for the first day's ‘contentious issues’ debates, which will take the form of presentations followed by discussion.

Climate change has taken a central position on the world's agenda and, as the World Health Organization has pointed out, health professionals are on the front line in dealing with its effects. Meanwhile, the arrival of bluetongue in northern Europe has shown how climate change can impact directly on animal health, and is seen by some as a harbinger of worse things to come. defra has listed work on new and emerging diseases as one of its priorities for research, together with work on climate change and on the availability and protection of natural resources. In his lecture, Professor Watson will explain what is happening and, perhaps more importantly, what needs to the done.

The Secretary of State at defra, Mr Hilary Benn, has highlighted the role of farmers in safeguarding the environment and helping to reduce the impact of climate change, challenging them to ‘climate proof’ their businesses. He has also called on them to compete effectively in world markets and respond to growing demand for high-quality food. Debates at the congress will consider the extent to which these aims are compatible and what the veterinary profession can do to help.

As far as disease control is concerned, the Government sees the solution in better partnership working, with producers having more input into decisions on disease control while also bearing more of the costs. Debate continues about how responsibilities should be shared and who should pay for what but, from a veterinary perspective, the important thing is to do what is best for animal health and welfare and also public health. One of the contentious issues debates will consider how vets can contribute to discussions on cost and responsibility sharing. Another, entitled ‘Cull or let live?’, will consider different approaches to infectious disease outbreaks.

Debates on the second day of the congress will be concerned less with how vets can help in the changing environment and more with how changes impacting on the profession itself are affecting its ability to do so. The Government says it is committed to cutting red tape and the costs of regulation — but it needs to achieve the right balance. One debate will consider this issue in relation to veterinary medicines and ask whether the Government is being overly pragmatic in its approach, or whether it can be accused of gold-plating. Another, entitled ‘Vets? Who needs them?’, will discuss the issues in terms of regulating the activities of vets and paraprofessionals. As the environment in which they must operate continues to change, a further debate will examine whether veterinary education adequately equips new graduates for the realities of practice and the challenges ahead.

Many of the cpd sessions will reflect the main congress theme with, for example, Sheep Veterinary Society sessions discussing flock health planning and providing an update on bluetongue, British Cattle Veterinary Association sessions looking at ways of improving production efficiency, the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons considering the future of farm animal practice, and a session organised by the Association of Government Veterinarians examining the response to notifiable disease outbreaks. A session organised by the British Veterinary Zoological Society will consider the impact of emerging diseases on zoos, while the bva Overseas Group has organised sessions discussing the close interdependence of animals and humans.

Companion animal cpd will be available through programmes devised by the Royal Veterinary College and the bsava's Metropolitan Region, covering developments in cardiology, ophthalmology and orthopaedics, while the British Equine Veterinary Association will be providing a session on equine dentistry. The Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association has organised sessions on research involving animals, while a session organised by the Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work will be looking at how universities and practices work together in providing extramural studies placements for veterinary students.

By combining cpd, politics and social events, the bva Congress provides an excellent opportunity to catch up on what is happening and also to contribute to the wider debate. As well as highlighting some of the challenges of the changing environment, it should provide new insights into how best to adapt.

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