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Meeting challenges now and in the future

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IT is a measure of the interest generated by the Vet Futures project that, despite the many other attractions available at the London Vet Show last week, a BVA Congress session discussing the report on the outcome of the first year of the project (VR, November 21, 2015, vol 177, pp 502, 503-504) was full. The launch of the report, followed by a debate chaired by Helena Diffey, president of the Association of Veterinary Students, attracted the interest of people from across the profession, including vets of all ages at all stages of their careers (see pp 534-535 of this issue). Other BVA Congress sessions, picking up on some of the themes identified by the project, such as a leading role for the profession in animal health and welfare and greater involvement in helping to meet global challenges, were also well attended, and served to emphasise the contribution that vets can make in these areas.

Debates on companion animal welfare were made all the more topical by the publication the week before the congress of the PDSA's annual PAW report on animal wellbeing, which has again highlighted that, while the UK considers itself to be a nation of pet lovers, the reality for many animals kept as pets falls far short of what might be expected if that were the case. Among the findings of the report are that a high proportion of pet owners do no research before taking on a pet, that the basic animal welfare needs of millions of pets (as defined by the Five Freedoms) are not being met, and that the number of pet owners who are familiar with the Animal Welfare Acts is at an all time low (see pp 529-530 of this issue). Matters discussed at the congress included how, perversely, anthropomorphism could contribute to some of the problems being encountered (in relation to pet obesity or the current penchant for brachycephalic dogs, for example), and whether, regarding ‘exotic’ pets, the keeping of certain species should be banned. Referring to the Five Freedoms in the plenary Wooldridge Memorial lecture, John Bradshaw, of the University of Bristol, suggested that, while the veterinary profession already played a pivotal role in helping to protect animals from pain, injury and disease, it could perhaps do more in relation to upholding their freedom from fear and distress.

Debates on the role of vets in relation to global challenges were also timely, not least in the context of the international conference on climate change scheduled to take place in Paris next week. The congress heard, among other things, that addressing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock was essential in terms of efforts to prevent climate change and that, in facing up to the issue, meat consumption patterns, as well as production processes, would have to change. Animal welfare was a concern as production processes were ramped up to help meet the world's growing appetite for animal protein and it was suggested that, as well as helping to address some of the challenges at an everyday practical level by taking a holistic approach to food animal production tailored to the circumstances of individual farms, vets should also contribute to the wider scientific and political debate on this issue. In a presentation on One Health, René Carlson, president of the World Veterinary Association, discussed current global and environmental challenges and explained how, even in situations where they not might feel they were in a position to affect developments directly, individual practising vets were well placed to raise client awareness of the issues. This was particularly true in relation to discussions on, for example, antimicrobial resistance, the importance of vaccination and safe disposal of medicines, and hygiene and public health. She also suggested that vets should seek to develop working relationships with medical health professionals at every level.

Having been identified during the Vet Futures project, professional and employment matters featured in the congress debates and, as indicated in the report on pp 534-535 of this issue, also turned out to be the main topics discussed during the Vet Futures debate itself. Not least among the topics raised were the changing nature of veterinary practice, pressures facing new graduates and concern about an apparent shortage of ‘experienced vets’. Meanwhile, a debate on veterinary education looked at what might be required of the vets of the future and how best to meet current and future needs.

Reports of some of the congress debates appear in this issue of Veterinary Record, and others will be published in the coming weeks. It was clear from the meeting that, while the profession may be looking to the future, there is much to keep it occupied at the moment. It is, of course, how current challenges are dealt with that will determine how the future works out.

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