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MENTION the words ‘European legislation’ and most people's eyes glaze over. This is unfortunate, because decisions made in Europe are important. For all the huffing and puffing that goes on in Westminster, it is often in Brussels that the real decisions are made, with much of the activity in Westminster being devoted to deciding how to translate those decisions into UK law. This is particularly true with regard to decisions relating to animal health and welfare, because of the importance attached to agriculture when the European Community was founded and its continuing significance to development of the single European market.
In this context, a recent strategy document from the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) is noteworthy. Representing 46 national organisations, and with a collective membership of 200,000 vets from all over Europe, the FVE represents the veterinary profession at EU level. With the EU currently in the process of revising a whole raft of legislation relating to animal health as well as updating veterinary medicines legislation, the document, which sets out the FVE's strategy for the next five years, could hardly be more timely.*
The FVE aims to ‘promote animal health, animal welfare and public health across Europe’ and to ‘support veterinarians in delivering their professional responsibilities at the best possible level, recognised and valued by society’. Pointing out that veterinary medicine has a much wider impact on society than is often appreciated, the strategy document emphasises the profession's contribution to public health as well as animal health, particularly in relation to safe food production. The FVE pledges its support for the One Health concept and says it will ‘continue to underline that veterinary medicine is a health profession with a direct and substantial impact on public health’. It says it will emphasise the role of veterinarians in preventing and controlling zoonoses and also provide a veterinary perspective on work currently being undertaken to update food hygiene legislation, including modernisation of meat inspection.
Emphasising the importance of a veterinary input on farms to protect both animal and human health, the FVE plans to promote a system of regular veterinary farm visits. ‘We hope this will support farmers to look after the health and welfare of their animals and in turn prevent people's health being damaged,’ the strategy document says; ‘It will also prevent any emerging problems going unnoticed.’
Emphasising, too, that national veterinary services need to be well organised, the FVE says it will ‘continue to promote efficient and well organised National Veterinary Services which comply with international standards and which are adequately staffed with qualified veterinary officers’. It also plans to promote the development and implementation of reliable monitoring and surveillance systems for early detection of emerging and re-emerging diseases. Both of these actions seem relevant to the situation in the UK at present, where the way state veterinary services are provided and arrangements for disease surveillance are both in the process of being reorganised.
While highlighting the vital role of veterinarians in relation to food animal production, the strategy document notes that, in many countries, the number of students becoming large animal practitioners is falling, with potentially serious consequences. Pointing out that there is a need to ensure that veterinarians continue to enter the profession, it says it will ‘try to keep public and private veterinary medicine an attractive career option’, promoting it as ‘an interesting and challenging profession, as well as a way to earn a reasonable income’.
Other matters discussed in the document include veterinary education and the efforts being made to develop an independent and reliable system to evaluate veterinary schools, which the FVE hopes will ultimately be made mandatory; plans to develop a common definition of ‘veterinarian’; responsible use of antimicrobials; and developing a holistic approach to animal welfare.
Both the BVA and the RCVS are part of the FVE. With so many organisations and so many other countries involved, it is surprising how many of the issues discussed in the document seem relevant to the UK and, in this respect, the document provides a good example of how a common professional interest can override more parochial concerns. It is important that the profession has a voice and continues to have an input into decisions made in Europe. European legislation may seem tedious during development but, once it has been agreed, it is too late to have much influence on the outcome and the consequences can be more exciting than one might wish.
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