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Prolonged lockdown will make welfare suffer

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By Josh Loeb

Lockdowns across Europe cannot carry on forever because the animal welfare costs are too high, the president of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) has argued.

In a webinar broadcast on 31 May, FVE president Rens van Dobbenburgh said that if countries in Europe persisted with restrictions on what services vets can provide, animal welfare would be badly impacted.

He said the problem was compounded because the stricter the lockdown, the higher the financial losses borne by vet practices – something that would have knock-on effects on animal health and welfare in the longer term because it meant fewer vets on hand to treat animals.

Van Dobbenburgh confirmed that, while countries in Europe were currently at different stages of their lockdowns, many were still far from ‘back to normal’, with many borders still closed or partially closed, social distancing in place and mandatory mask wearing in public in some places.

In the UK, vets were initially told to limit the services they provided to emergency and urgent cases only. Rules have since been relaxed significantly to allow in effect for a full range of services to be provided once again – so long as guidance on social distancing and safe working is adhered to as far as possible.

Van Dobbenburgh said that in parts of continental Europe, however, vets remain heavily restricted in terms of what services they can provide. This, he said, was not a sustainable or justifiable long-term situation because of its impacts on animals.

‘We are very sure that if we continue with the level of working today in most countries, where vets do only, say, up to the level of emergency cases, plus maybe a little bit of vaccination and some other stuff, then in the long run this will create very serious animal health and animal welfare issues,’ he said.

We can’t work the way we do today for too long a period

‘We can’t work the way we do today for too long a period. We have to take care that there should come a moment when it stops – because there are serious impacts on animal health and animal welfare.’

The FVE had done its utmost to convey this message to policymakers, he said, adding: ‘The FVE is closely watching the impact of Covid-19 on animal welfare. For this reason the FVE is participating in a project by OIE – the World Organisation for Animal Health – which started the network which, via an expert group, globally maps the impact of Covid-19 on animal welfare.’

He added: ‘As vets, we know when it comes to animal welfare this period impacts heavily on our animals. For example, we have seen hiccups in the food supply chain because of falling consumer demand but also because slaughterhouses seem to be a kind of special target for this virus, resulting in the closing down of slaughterhouses and overpopulation on farms. In the USA, our colleagues are already culling swine because of this problem. We also see now the closing down of slaughterhouses in quite a few European countries.

‘Furthermore, because of the economic situation after unlocking, we expect people will have trouble paying for the costs of companion animals and horses, and that even more will abandon their animals. We have seen that before. That is our worry.’

The impact of recession on clients’ ability to seek preventive healthcare for animals was also ‘a worry’, he said.

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