British Veterinary Association chief underlines need for vets to be central to the food chain at BVA Northern Ireland dinner.  

Vets must be at the heart of initiatives to expand the food supply chain in Northern Ireland, according to the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) as he delivered a speech to guests at the BVA’s annual Northern Ireland dinner.

Under the theme of “trust”, president Robin Hargreaves spoke of the importance of the relationship between vets and their clients in delivering government and industry-led programmes to eradicate disease and improve animal health and welfare.

The dinner was also attended by chief veterinary officer for Northern Ireland Bert Houston who delivered a speech on behalf of Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) minister Michelle O’Neill who was unable to attend.

Mr Hargreaves said: “The importance of the relationship between an animal owner and his or her vet should never be underestimated. That is why we feel so strongly that vets must be at the heart of current initiatives to significantly expand the local food sector.

“[Going for Growth] couldn’t have come at a better time given the extraordinary challenges our livestock keepers have faced over the past 12 months, most notably the terrible spring weather that resulted in such devastating losses.

“We are pleased to see the key recommendations of Going for Growth include the need to eliminate animal disease, to double the drawdown of European funding for agri-food innovation, and to promote the [unique selling point] of improved animal health, welfare and biosecurity.

“Yes, it’s ambitious. But it’s also achievable as long as we have a strong network of veterinary practices and a commitment to veterinary-led research.”

On the bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) and Johne’s disease eradication programmes being developed by Animal Health and Welfare NI, he said: “Through our members on the ground BVA is firmly behind these programmes and we have communicated our strong support for the next phase of the BVD eradication programme to include compulsory testing.

“We hope the groundswell of opinion from industry and the profession will help the minister to introduce the necessary legislation at the earliest opportunity.

“The ongoing battle against endemic disease frustrates vets and farmers on a daily basis. We are constantly chasing to keep up and so we must seize this opportunity for the future health and welfare of the national herd to allow us to fully exploit its export potential.”

Mr Hargreaves also warned of the unintended consequences of losing the network of local veterinary practices if DARD followed the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in changing the way official veterinarian work is procured.

He said: “These relationships must never be taken for granted. The role of private vets as trusted sources of advice for farmers in endemic disease control programmes must not be lost in the rush to make cost savings.

“We lose our network of local veterinary practices at our peril. It’s a network that provides vital services to the rural economy and a first line of defence in the face of disease.”

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