Talking #teamvet with Theresa

Posted on August 01, 2019 by Simon Doherty

"Hello, this is the switchboard at 10 Downing Street. Are you ready for your call with the Secretary of State?” This morning, I had a short introductory phone-call with new Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, where I highlighted the importance of relationships and communications in relation to animal health and welfare.

Following the appointment of the new Prime Minister and the subsequent announcement of the new Defra ministerial team last week, I wrote to the Secretary of State to request a meeting at the earliest opportunity. We had enjoyed good engagement with the previous ministerial team, particularly with Michael Gove and David Rutley, and I was keen that we would try to keep the momentum up following the Cabinet shuffle.

In my letter I also called on Theresa Villiers to enshrine the principle of sentience in UK Law before EU Exit and urged continuing conversations on veterinary workforce and non-stun slaughter, where the direction of travel has been good.

Relationships and communications

During the call I emphasised the important role that veterinary surgeons play in communications around animal health and welfare. I mentioned pet travel and the threat of African Swine Fever as specific examples and acknowledged how the Defra and BVA communications team often work well together to spread messages through the media and across social media platforms, encouraging vets to educate their animal-owning clients and the general public.

I also used the call to relay to the Secretary of State how important the close interactions with UK CVO, Christine Middlemiss, and the Defra team are to us at BVA. She acknowledged the wide range of roles that vets play and the devolved nature of animal health. I explained that BVA’s branch structure also allows us to maintain good connections on the ground with members, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish CVOs and government departments in the devolved regions.

Brexit and non-Brexit related priorities

As part of a broad discussion on Brexit-related issues, we also spoke about trade and the need to ensure that any future trade deals that might be negotiated do not in any way undermine the levels of animal health and welfare our livestock farmers strive for in the UK.

The requirement for increased levels of veterinary certification naturally led us into a discussion around the veterinary workforce, including aspects of recruitment and retention. I explained that there are specific concerns within the veterinary community in Northern Ireland over the NI/Ireland border, to a large extent driven by the lack of clarity over what form Brexit will take and the veterinary capacity that may be required for certification from 1 November.

As we rounded things off, I told the Secretary of State that we had recently made some progress in our discussions around non-stun slaughter , particularly in relation to our pragmatic asks around a ban on the export of non-stun produce, improved labelling and funding for more work around stun recoverability. She was keen to point out that she had a track history of campaigning on animal welfare-related issues but that she was also deeply committed to maintaining the principles of religious freedom, and so she felt that our pragmatic asks were a sensible way forward.

We finished the call with a mutual acknowledgement that it had been a useful introduction and that we very much looked forward to having a series of face-to-face meetings with the Defra ministerial team now that portfolios have been announced.  We’ll continue our close engagement with the department on all matters of interest to the veterinary community.

Simon Doherty

Written by Simon Doherty

BVA President

Simon Doherty is President of BVA. He is a past-president of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association and of the Northern Ireland Branch of BVA. Simon is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast and is a certified aquaculture vet. He is a trustee of livestock development charity, Send a Cow, and of the Animal Welfare Foundation. Simon Doherty became President of BVA in September 2018.