The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has hit out at Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to plug the gap in the UK’s vet workforce.
BVA bosses have previously warned the number of Official Veterinarians (OVs) in the UK will have to ‘increase significantly’ after Brexit to cope with the growing demand for food import and export certification.
But the need for more OVs – 90 per cent of whom are EU citizens – has come just as one in five EU vets are seeking work in other countries as a result of Brexit uncertainty.
When Mr Gove was asked how he planned to deal with this problem during an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee hearing last week, he said: “We are scaling up the number of vets we believe will be necessary in order to ensure the potential expected increase in export health certificates is met.
“One of the other things I have asked is at what level qualification do we need to have people who can issue export health certificates. Do you need a full vet, or can you have someone who has lower qualifications than those currently enjoyed by people who have been through a full veterinary degree in this country?
“We are taking steps to ensure extra vets are recruited and also looking at the way in which we can fill the gap with people who do not have all of those qualifications.”
But John Fishwick, president of the BVA, told Farmers Guardian fully qualified vets who have undergone significant additional training were best placed to uphold high standards across the supply chain.
“Putting what is very specialist work into less qualified hands not only undermines the OVs’ expertise and years of training, but could also leave the supply chain at increased risk of food fraud and welfare breaches at a time when maintaining high consumer confidence in UK produce has never been more important”, he added.
“And far from boosting trade, the idea would actually fall at the first hurdle in many countries which insist on exports being certified by a veterinary surgeon.
“We are at least encouraged that Michael Gove recognises Brexit is likely to bring about an imminent surge in demand for certification, but he will need to consider quality as much as quantity as he explores ways of addressing this. We will be writing to him to raise our concerns.”
A Defra spokesman said Mr Gove had not suggested full vets would no longer be needed to ‘sign off’ export health certificates, but that other people involved in the process may need fewer qualifications.
“Animal welfare will always be a priority and never be compromised”, the spokesman added.
“The Secretary of State was pointing out the fact that there are other people who are currently carrying out roles, such as meat hygiene inspectors, who are not qualified vets but nonetheless do a fantastic job and have a continuing role to play in the future.
“There is no proposal for veterinary health export certificates to be signed off by anyone other than a qualified vet.”