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Defra veterinary service given renewed confidence by spending settlement

Defra’s chief veterinary officer has welcomed the recent spending settlement which he believes has gone a long way to securing Defra’s capability to defend the country from animal disease in the future.


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Defra chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens
Defra chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens

Defra’s veterinary service has been given renewed confidence after Liz Truss successfully convinced the Treasury to maintain spending in this area, according to the Department’s its chief vet.

 

The Department’s long-term capability to identify and respond to exotic disease outbreaks and to address endemic problems like bovine TB appeared to be under serious threat as the Department was asked to prepare for cuts of 25 to 40 per cent ahead of the recent spending review.

 

In the end, Mrs Truss secured a 15 per cut to the resource budget over the next four years, with a firm commitment to maintaining Defra’s capability on animal and plant health, including the 25-year TB strategy.

 

Defra Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens stressed the 15 per cent cut would bring changes but said he was ‘really pleased’ with the overall outcome. He said the Department had to fight for its right to sustain spending in this key area.

 

“Defra, like all the Departments, was making their cases for priorities to the Treasury and in this area it was accepted,” he said.

 

“We will still change but that commitment is there and we secured funding that leaves us much more confident.”

Science capability

The settlement included funding to maintain Defra’s science capability with £130 million capital investment in its science estates and equipment, including funding to enhance national outbreak response capabilities.

 

Mr Gibbens said this was ‘essential’ to sustain the vital work of Defra’s network laboratories in disease surveillance, testing and research.

 

He added: “Maintaining funding for our 25-year TB strategy is also crucially important. The Government is committed to it - now we have got to work with the industry to take that forward.”

 

He highlighted key priorities as Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) adapt to tighter spending restrains. These include making better use of available technology and data to monitor and address animal health risks.

 

Mr Gibbens was speaking after an event in London to mark 150 years since the State Veterinary Service was established to tackle a devastating epidemic of cattle plague (Rinderpest), which resulted in the loss of around 400,000 animals.

 

“It eradicated Rinderpest from the country in 11 years and was maintained and has tackled a series of major diseases, moving to a situation where the country is essentially free of most major diseases,” he said.

 

“Now we are looking much more at horizon scanning for the disease threats and being ready for them. We are having to change to keep up with the times and make sure we are effective in dealing with the next emerging disease.”

 

He highlighted the recent incursion of Scmhallenberg and the threat of bluetongue as examples of the disease threats that face the UK and the need for effective surveillance.

 

 

150 years of the state veterinary service

1865 - Government established the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council to tackle a devastating epidemic of cattle plague (Rinderpest), which caused the loss of around 400,000 animals.

 

1894 - Veterinary Laboratory Service (VLS) established in Whitehall to improve disease diagnostics, prompted by outbreak of swine fever.

 

1917 - Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) opened at a site near Weybridge, in Surrey, to lead animal disease research. Still an integral part of APHA.

 

1925 - Tuberculosis Order introduced for the first time linking the spread of disease in humans with the consumption of untreated milk. Led to bTB testing in cattle herds.

 

1935 - As part of drive to tackle bTB, Attested Herds Scheme introduced enabling farmers to apply for official bTB testing and, in the absence of reactors, to be entered into the Register of Attested Herds, guaranteeing a premium on milk.

 

1938 - State Veterinary Service (SVS) established as part of the Animal Health Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), under Sir Daniel Cabot, the Chief Veterinary Officer.

 

1960s - The SVS was heavily involved in eradicating bTB and brucellosis. However, pockets of bTB persisted in the South West.

 

1971 - Regional VIS laboratory at Starcross identified the first case of Mycobacterium bovis in badgers and found that badgers were a significant reservoir of the disease.

 

1986 - CVL characterised the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and, from the epidemiological information provided by the VIS, identified a link between the disease and feed containing a scrapie-like agent in ruminant derived meat and bone meal.

 

1990 - CVL became one of the government’s first executive agencies, followed by the merger of CVL and VIS to form the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).

 

2007 - Having become an agency of Defra, the SVS changed its name to Animal Health.

 

2009 - Defra created the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) as part of a review of its arms-length bodies, bringing together a wide range of field services, wildlife and veterinary expertise and scientific capabilities.

 

2014 - The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) was formed by merging the AHVLA with those Defra Inspectorates covering plant, seed and bee health, creating a single organisation responsible for safeguarding animal and plant health.

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