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BVA letter prompts review of fireworks

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By Josh Loeb

The BVA wants tougher regulation of fireworks, including clearer labelling to inform consumers how loud they are.

That recommendation, one of 13 contained in the association’s newly updated position on fireworks, was signed off at a BVA council meeting last month.

Its full policy position is expected to be published this autumn, but already Kelly Tolhurst, a government minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has commissioned a fresh review of the evidence of harms caused by fireworks.

Her move followed a letter, seen by Vet Record, that was sent to her by the BVA and several other organisations earlier this summer. Since then the BVA has also met with the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) about the issue.

At last month’s council meeting, BVA branch representatives warned about the impact on animals of various types of pyrotechnics.

Current controls on the use and sale of fireworks do not go far enough

‘Current controls on the use and sale of fireworks, as well as controls to mitigate noise levels, do not go far enough to safeguard the health and welfare of animals in the UK,’ said BVA senior vice president John Fishwick.

Collin Willson, from the Welsh branch, said some pyrotechnics had a ‘serious impact’ on livestock. He shared a story about his dog, which he said had inexplicably been racked with nerves one night. Only later had Willson discovered that, unbeknown to him at the time, a large firework display had been taking place several miles away on that same night.

‘That dog could sense noises we couldn’t even hear,’ Willson said. ‘We just don’t know how they are perceiving these noises.’

The BVA wants the maximum permitted noise level for fireworks to be set at 97 decibels – a reduction from the current 120 decibel maximum permitted level. The limit is based on an RSPCA report that concluded 97 decibels was the upper limit of ‘common household noises’ – those that pets might reasonably be expected to be able to tolerate.

However, Animal Welfare Foundation chair and former Dogs Trust veterinary director Chris Laurence warned that the association could be setting itself up to be a ‘hostage to fortune’ by putting a figure on how much noise was too much.

How enclosed a space is makes more of a difference, he suggested, adding that ‘if you let a firework off in this room it would sound very, very loud, but if you set it off in the middle of Hyde would be different.’

Fireworks are regulated within the framework of the Fireworks Regulations 2004, which imposes restrictions on when they can be used and categorises them by explosive content.

Laurence warned: ‘When the fireworks legislation went through the last time, we had endless discussions about measuring noise and we came to the conclusion it was actually very difficult to do. We’re setting ourselves up as a hostage to fortune by putting a number on it [noise]...This is a very complex issue.’

The BVA’s updated position covers only fireworks. However, some representatives on council suggested that a tougher stance should also be taken towards sparklers and sky lanterns.

The review commissioned by the government is expected to cover the impact of fireworks on animals, as well as the environmental fall-out from fireworks displays, for example litter and air pollution caused by them.

The latest BVA survey data suggest around 7 per cent of vets have seen animals with ‘fireworks injuries’ in the past year. Equine vets are the most likely to have seen such injuries, with one in five reporting having seen them.

Injuries include ‘self injuries’ caused by firework-related anxiety. This could include horses that have bolted or dogs with mouth injuries caused by chewing on furniture. Injuries that are an indirect result of fireworks appear to be far commoner than those sustained directly as a consequence of people letting off these explosives. However, some vets also told the BVA that they had seen animals with burns caused as a consequence.

Other organisations that wrote to BEIS minister Tolhurst included PTSD UK, which assists sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder, and Dogs Trust, whose director of canine behaviour Rachel Casey said fireworks could have a ‘profoundly negative’ impact on dogs.

A BEIS spokesperson said the OPSS would publish its report ‘in due course’.•

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