The president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has claimed Northern Ireland’s excellence in research and development must be maintained through continuous investment.

John Blackwell speaking at the BVA’s annual dinner.

Speaking at the BVA’s annual dinner at the country’s parliament buildings in Stormont, John Blackwell highlighted the global impact of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute’s (AFBI) work, especially in the aquaculture industry and international trade of pig products.

“Continued investment in AFBI – and I would highlight in particular its veterinary sciences division – is critical to maintain sufficient levels of disease surveillance and investigation,” he said. “Such work guarantees preparedness for an outbreak of epizootic/transboundary disease – just as AFBI was able to provide in relation to influenza, bluetongue and Schmallenberg.”

Mr Blackwell also highlighted the liaison work carried out by the Bovine Viral Diarrhoea Implementation Group in educating the farming and veterinary professions on the disease. Urging further action, however, Mr Blackwell said: “I know our colleagues in Northern Ireland are hopeful this industry-led Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland voluntary scheme will become mandatory in early 2015; both the veterinary profession and industry are very anxious for a definite statement.”

On veterinary education in the country, Mr Blackwell discussed the University of Ulster’s plans to deliver veterinary science courses.

“There may be sound economic reasons to develop veterinary education in Northern Ireland, and we can of course see the attraction for local school leavers to be able to attend a home university,” he said.

But we need to get this right from the start. If we don’t, there is potential for too many vets and not enough jobs, with downward pressure on salaries and employment conditions.”

Other topics covered in the speech included:

  • the lack of abattoirs to slaughter horses in Northern Ireland
  • bovine tuberculosis
  • antimicrobial resistance and European Antibiotics Awareness Day
  • work to raise public awareness of Toxocara
  • the Animal Welfare Foundation/Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals puppy contract
  • vet well-being and
  • the future of the veterinary profession.

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) minister Michelle O’Neill was due to attend, but, unable to make it, chief veterinary officer Robert Huey spoke on her behalf.

Other guests at the dinner included parliamentarians, representatives of animal health and welfare organisations and the agri-food industry, members of the media and senior members of the veterinary profession.

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