LettersThe Veterinary Record, April 21, 2007
Withdrawal of routine brucellosis testing in beef herds
SIR, I read with interest the comments of John Sproat (VR, March 31, 2007, vol 160, p 451) and felt moved to support him, not least on behalf of the many young veterinarians who are either training at our universities or have recently graduated and hope to be involved in farm animal work.
The fact that there was no consultation on the withdrawal of brucellosis testing, which was announced in the short letter to The Veterinary Record, referred to by John Sproat, from the Chief Veterinary Officers of England, Scotland and Wales, raises many questions, as does the letter itself (VR, March 24, 2007, vol 160, p 414). For example, what is the relevance of milk testing dairy cattle to beef herds? Is it not time that we used this sort of routine surveillance exercise to test a selected population of these animals for say bluetongue or even bovine tuberculosis (TB)?
What is the value of ensuring regular visits to extensive beef (and sheep) farms that may have relatively little contact with their veterinarian? These last two could put a different cost-benefit aspect to the matter.
I am genuinely concerned that short term financial expediency brought about by the recent debacle within the Rural Payments Agency is what has brought this upon us. If this is so, why should errors of policy that have nothing to do with animal welfare impinge upon the profession and its work in farm animal disease control and welfare? There are other issues that one could mention, not least the discussion on cost-sharing of disease control, but unfortunately these merely add to my belief that this disastrous policy blunder has hardened already sceptical Whitehall attitudes towards the profession and the farming industry, as successive governments have pushed to one side general veterinary opinion concerning farm animal welfare and disease control issues on what appear to be primarily cost issues.
In particular, the profession has emphasised the need for a cadre of experienced veterinarians regularly going on to farms and the fact that through this there were at least the basic elements of a national surveillance system involving the local veterinary inspector, abattoir and the veterinary investigation centres. Regular visits such as bovine TB and brucellosis testing have been an integral part of this.
We must remember the need for the regular replacement of these experienced people. This must include those within the State Veterinary Service (now, I understand, rebranded as Animal Health) and other institutions. Presently, many of these same practising farm veterinarians are involved in training not only our students, through so-called extramural studies, but also our recently qualified graduates as they start their careers. Their only real reward for this is the enjoyment of teaching committed young people, for, unlike the medical profession, there is no underpinning NHS to help ensure training to the equivalent of consultant level. Regular routine visits on to farms are an important element in developing a greater understanding of rural issues both specifically related to health and welfare of stock and their food hygiene implications, and more general issues such as the relationship of stock to the management of the environment. The profession has to undertake all of this training itself and this cost in terms of time and money is met by the professional associations, individual practices and other institutions such as my own. It has to be said none of us is particularly flush with either money or time, and this present decision adds to ones apprehension that there are going to be insufficient experienced people left to carry on this essential work.
All that Mr Sproat and others are asking for is for some support. There is some evidence that at least some sections of the public are also beginning to understand the implications of the present policies, with the reduction in stock numbers and the concomitant increased need to import farm products of less certain provenance, and they are also demanding action. All they and the profession desire is clear evidence that government is fully aware of these difficult issues and is prepared to face them in a real partnership.
We admit that a properly integrated approach between practice and the others as described above has a higher cost than some in the Treasury might like, but administrators are there to serve the country, not the other way round, and costbenefit and effectiveness should be more important rules of thumb than cost alone.
Surely the recent animal disease history of this country has taught us that? With the coming elections, is it possible that at least some of the potential representatives of the people will be prepared to champion our position?
D. N. Logue, Vice-President, BVA Scottish Branch, University of Glasgow Veterinary School, Bearsden, Glasgow G61 1QH
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