The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has denied claims from Defra’s top civil servant that the industry is ‘confident’ enough vets will be in place to process food exports in a no-deal Brexit.
The group has previously warned the number of Official Veterinarians (OVs) in the UK would have to increase significantly after Brexit to cope with growing demand for food import and export certification.
As all EU member states will be classed as ‘third countries’ for trade purposes when the UK leaves the bloc, many more OVs will be required to inspect and issue Export Health Certificates (EHCs) for products such as meat, milk and gelatine.
Giving evidence to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on September 9, Defra’s permanent secretary, Tamara Finkelstein, said there are now over 1,000 vets available to certify animal products – a 50 per cent increase since February.
“It is very hard to make an exact judgment [about the numbers needed] because there are lots of dependencies, but the sector feels confident they will have the necessary vets,” she added.
“The sector feels there is enough capacity.”
But BVA president Simon Doherty disputed the claim.
He said: “The Government has brought in several additional measures to help meet the potential increase in demand for veterinary certification services in the event of a no-deal Brexit, including free certification training, an enhanced recruitment drive and the introduction of a certification support officer role to help with this activity under veterinary direction.
“We recognise and support these efforts, and agree this has helped to bring up capacity.
Step too far
“However, suggesting the sector is ‘confident’ it will have adequate capacity is a step too far at this stage.
“It is impossible to predict how much demand for veterinary services could spiral and we have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact this could have on an already stretched workforce.
“Our members are also worried about having an adequate spread of qualified vets across the UK, especially in Northern Ireland.
“We have raised this point with Defra and will continue to engage closely with them to ensure our members’ views are taken into account in future messaging.”