Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

SESSION 2002-03
23 October 2003


The Committee has investigated reports of shortages of vets undertaking large animal work (ie. working with farm animals). Such reports come at the same time as the Government is developing an animal health and welfare strategy and a veterinary surveillance strategy in the aftermath of the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

The Report's key finding is that an impending shortage of vets with large animal experience could leave the United Kingdom vulnerable in dealing with a future major animal disease outbreak and make it difficult for the Government to implement a prevention plan as part of its proposed animal welfare strategy.

The Committee's detailed conclusions include

•that although hard data about large animal vet numbers is somewhat elusive, it is apparent (and is generally accepted) that there is likely to be a shortage of large animal vets, and that shortages of large animal vets will affect the delivery of Government strategies aimed at encouraging veterinary surveillance for animal disease outbreaks and at improving animal health and welfare standards;

•that the Government must be proactive in encouraging student vets to enter large animal practices, and, if necessary, must intervene in the market to ensure that large animal vets are adequately paid for the services they provide; and

•that the consequence of the Competition Commission report into prescription-only veterinary medicines might well be further pressure on the numbers of large animal vets, and that the report must be re-evaluated in that context.

The Committee also makes recommendations about the resources given to the State Veterinary Service, and about schemes to register and/or licence all keepers of livestock. It concedes that a system of registering livestock keepers (ie. keeping a database of where farm animals are kept) is probably now inevitable. It does not at this stage recommend a system of licensing livestock keepers (ie. placing conditions on those who keep stock), and instead recommends that Defra assess the costs and benefits of such a system.

The Committee also makes specific comment about veterinary surveillance, asking how vets will monitor for disease outbreaks, particularly on farms to which they are not regularly called. The Committee questions whether unannounced inspections are envisaged and, if they are, who will pay for them.

On publication of the Report, the Chairman of the Sub-committee which conducted the inquiry, Michael Jack MP, will say:

"Any shortage of large animal vets leaves the United Kingdom vulnerable to further outbreaks of major animal diseases. The announcement of Government strategies to improve veterinary surveillance and animal health and welfare is welcome, but the Government must ensure that there are adequate numbers of vets to deliver results."


The full report will be available on our website, from around 3.30 pm on 23 October, at: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/environment__food_and_rural_affairs.cfm