The number of vets in the UK will have to ‘increase significantly’ after Brexit to cope with growing demand for food import and export certification, according to the British Veterinary Association (BVA).
As all EU member states are likely to be classed as ‘third countries’ for trade purposes after Brexit, the BVA expects many more ‘Official Veterinarians’ (OVs) to be required to inspect and certify products such as meat, milk, gelatine and hay.
New trade agreements with other countries would add to the pressure, and the UK’s chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, has estimated the volume of products requiring certification could mushroom by as much as 325 per cent.
In April, Farmers Guardian reported that the additional workload, coupled with the veterinary industry’s heavy reliance upon EU labour – over 90 per cent of OVs are EU27 citizens – would leave farmers short of vets and had the potential to undermine the UK’s future export capability.
Now the BVA has warned MPs of the situation in its response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the impact of Brexit on the UK’s food trade.
BVA senior vice president Gudrun Ravetz said: “Vets are absolutely vital to facilitating UK trade by ensuring standards so consumers at home and abroad have confidence in the food safety and welfare of the products they buy.
“Veterinary certification is required not only for meat, but a whole range of products such as gelatine in sweets.
“Ironically, it is non-British EU vets who make up around 50 per cent of our new workforce each year.
“But since the EU referendum, we are facing serious problems in recruiting and retaining EU vets, which makes the need for more vets to perform this crucial trade task an even more pressing concern.”
“Vets’ role in the future of UK trade must be recognised and planned for as an integral part of forthcoming trade negotiations.”
The BVA has called on the Government to undertake a review of third country certification to ensure the UK has the capacity to fulfil new trade agreements.
It has also urged Ministers to guarantee working rights for non-British EU vets and veterinary nurses currently working and studying in the UK.