No deal Brexit risks shortages, delays and lower standards, warn vets

19 October 2018

A no deal Brexit will exacerbate current shortages in the veterinary profession and create significant risks for trade, animal health and welfare, and food safety, according to a new briefing from the British Veterinary Association.

Vets are central to ensuring standards are upheld in animal health and welfare, food safety and public health, and the prospect of Brexit has raised concerns that there will not be the veterinary capacity to carry out these fundamental roles, especially with regards to export certification.

In a recent survey of the profession, nearly two thirds (64%) of vets felt that Brexit was more of a threat than an opportunity for the veterinary profession and nearly nine out of ten (88%) are concerned about the potential lack of veterinary capacity to undertake certification post-Brexit.

Informed by the technical notices released by the UK government, the briefing outlines the impacts of the UK leaving the EU at 11 pm 29 March 2019 without a withdrawal agreement in place.

Vet Shortages

The veterinary profession is already experiencing shortages and recent figures from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) show that 32 per cent of non-UK EU veterinary surgeons are considering a move back home and 18 per cent are actively looking for work outside the UK, indicating Brexit will exacerbate these shortages.  

A no deal Brexit will require more work from vets to meet increased demands for the certification needed for export of animals and animal products and for pet travel. In addition, exiting from EU surveillance systems and uncertainty around access to medicines could have negative impacts on animal health and welfare further down the line, requiring more veterinary capacity.

Exiting from EU surveillance, food safety and trade systems

Under a no deal Brexit the UK will lose or have limited access to a range of EU systems and organisations that are central to safeguarding public and animal health. These include the Animal Disease Notification System (ADNS) which permits access to information about contagious animal disease outbreaks, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which provides scientific advice and communication on existing and emerging risks to food safety and the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) which records the outcome of biosecurity and food safety checks on imported commodities.  Uncertainty over access to veterinary medicines is another potential threat to animal health and welfare.

Alternative systems need to be in place to ensure the UK’s reputation in animal disease surveillance, food safety and biosecurity is maintained on Brexit day and vets should be involved in the development of these systems. Currently it is not clear what, if any, form these systems will take and the level of veterinary involvement in their development and application.

Delays to pet travel and animal transport

With no deal in place, when the UK leaves the EU it will have to become a ‘listed third country’ for the purposes of trade, pet travel and animal movement. This will mean increasing demands on the veterinary profession in terms of signing Export Health Certificates (EHCs) for the export of animals or animal products as well as certification, testing and vaccination for pet travel and equine transport.

Without approval from the European Union, the UK will not achieve listed third country status on Brexit day and there could be a delay of several months during which animals may not be able to travel and abattoirs may not be able operate due to the increasing demands for export certification which could lead to overstocking on farms with negative impacts on animal health and welfare.

The Northern Ireland border and co-ordination across devolved administrations

With no agreed ‘backstop’ in place to avoid the need for veterinary checks on the live animals and products of animal origin at the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, vets would be required to undertake these checks, placing more demands on an overstretched veterinary workforce.

A no deal Brexit would mean no transition period where EU law would continue to take effect across the UK until the replacement legislation is in place. This reduces the time for common frameworks to coordinate and agree animal health and welfare policy across the four parts of the UK.

British Veterinary Association President, Simon Doherty, said:

“With the prospect of a no deal Brexit looming large, huge question marks remain over what will replace the EU systems and legislation that have hitherto been central to our standards in animal health and welfare, food safety and trade. We still have major concerns over the potential increase in export health certification and whether we will have the veterinary capacity to meet these demands.  Indeed, the combination of Brexit deterring non-UK EU vets from working in the UK and the increased pressures on the veterinary workforce calls for immediate measures to be taken, and we are urging the government to place vets on the shortage occupation list.

 “Going forward it is critical that the government fully engages with the veterinary profession on matters that affect their work in maintaining standards and we have continuing concerns that this is not happening in time to put something meaningful in place. For example, the £27.5 million system intended to replace TRACES is planned to be fully operational for March 2019 and vets would be one of the primary users of this system, but we have yet to be approached to be involved in the testing and training process for the new system.  

"We are proud of our profession and the meticulous care with which we uphold standards and any post-Brexit systems or procedures must allow us to maintain our responsibilities to public health and animal health and welfare. As always, we are keen to work with the government to ensure that we are as fully prepared as possible for what a no deal Brexit holds.”

BVA Media Office