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Bringing animal health and welfare to Westminster

This year’s Westminster briefing had record attendance from parliamentarians. The format is simple. BVA provides refreshments in a Westminster dining room and invites elected members to come and hear our messages on pressing animal health and welfare issues.

Houses of ParliamentThere are many reasons for joining BVA. For some, the key benefits are our flagship scientific journals, In Practice and Veterinary Record. Others value access to legal advice, insurance, healthcare, our professional guides and high quality training. In addition to these services that support members throughout their careers, each and every member is also part of an association that is constantly gathering members’ views and experiences, using them to formulate policy and making sure those policies and messages are heard at the highest levels. Nowhere is this more evident than at our annual afternoon reception in the House of Commons.

This year’s event had record attendance from parliamentarians. The format is simple. BVA provides refreshments in a Westminster dining room and invites elected members to come and hear our messages on pressing animal health and welfare issues.

BVA Honorary Associate and former Shadow Minster for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca-Davies MP, kindly hosted the event, fitting in a short introductory welcome during a break from Anglo-Chinese affairs on the day of President Xi Jinping’s UK parliamentary address. Huw has been a BVA honorary associate for two years – one of our network of parliamentarians and eminent others who advance the interests of the association - and commended the veterinary profession’s “forensic and evidence-based approach to big issues”. Over the course of the next two hours, parliamentarians met BVA’s assembled team of representatives from across the profession, including specialist division presidents and chairs of BVA’s committees.

A commitment to responsible medicine use

Huw Irranca-Davies speechI gave a short President’s speech, highlighting BVA’s policy agenda and how we would like government to act. In line with my Presidential theme, this began with the global context, conveying the essential roles of the veterinary profession in helping to achieve good health and wellbeing for animals, people and the environment through interdisciplinary One Health working. Acknowledging the projected doubling of meat and dairy consumption by 2050 I stated our commitment to humane, sustainable agriculture that ensures the long-term health and wellbeing of farmers, farmed animals, citizens and the natural environment.

One of the pressing global challenges is antimicrobial resistance. Government needs to know that a post-antibiotic era would be as catastrophic for animal health and welfare as it would be for human medicine, and that vets are working hard to combat this. I emphasised the profession’s commitment to responsible medicines use, whether in companion, equine or farmed animal practice. In a few weeks it will be World Antibiotic Awareness Week, when we will be highlighting and promoting our commitments and resources once again.

Promoting welfare at slaughter

All attending politicians would have been aware of BVA’s ongoing campaign to improve welfare at slaughter, and we reminded them of the public’s support for our position through nearly 120,000 signatures on the government e-petition earlier this year. Conscious of David Cameron’s commitment to protecting non-stun slaughter, I focused on our current pragmatic position that aims to minimise the suffering of non-stunned animals and reduce the numbers affected. That position calls for immediate post-cut stunning; matching supply to legitimate demand (to reduce the amount of non-stun product being produced for non-religious markets); and labelling of non-stunned meat. Additionally, we used the opportunity to encourage our guests to sign Early Day Motion 153, calling for the mandatory installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses.

Bovine TB on the political radar

MPs at the BVA afternoon briefingSeveral parliamentarians were interested in finding out about BVA’s latest position on bovine TB and we reiterated our support for a comprehensive strategy for control and eradication. Culling, as one part of that strategy, must be safe, humane and effective and we stated our position that culling should be undertaken using the tried and tested method of cage trapping and shooting only. For those interested in learning more, we reminded our guests of a BVA-convened specialist briefing on TB, to be held for parliamentarians next week. By hosting such events, BVA is able to keep bovine TB control firmly on the political radar.

Concern for the illegal puppy trade

For BVA members who may have seen the recent BBC Watchdog expose of a puppy farm in Bradford, or been concerned about the activities exposed by the RSPCA’s five-year PAGAN operation, we conveyed the profession’s concern and the need for government action to combat the organised criminal activity that is meeting some of society’s demand for puppies. We pressed for adequate resourcing of local authorities and implementation of existing legislation, as well as the need for enforcement and review of EU legislation which we are calling for with colleagues in Europe. There were several nodding heads as I underlined the importance of government and the companion animal sector providing co-ordinated education to prospective buyers, including through promoting the AWF/RSPCA Puppy Contract, to create demand for healthy, happy puppies.

Protecting the veterinary nurse title

Huw Irranca-Davies with Sean WensleyA final, clear call-to-action was to ask for Members’ support for the “Veterinary Nurse (Protection of Title)” Bill, to help safeguard animal welfare and ensure veterinary nurses get the full professional recognition they deserve. As I write, the Government e-petition stands at just over 18,000 signatories. We need everyone – vets, vet nurses and the public – to sign and take the petition to the 100,000 signatures needed for a Parliamentary debate. In the meantime we will lobby those Parliamentarians who, thanks to our engagement, we now know are supportive of the campaign.


Sean WensleyWritten by Sean Wensley      
BVA President from September 2015 to September 2016

Follow @SeanWensley on Twitter

Sean is Senior Veterinary Surgeon for Communication and Education at PDSA, based in Northern Ireland. He is also an Honorary Lecturer in animal welfare at the University of Nottingham.


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