Hot topics unpacked at NI vet association evening

Hot topics unpacked at NI vet association evening

The current issues that threaten animal health and welfare in Northern Ireland were unpacked at an inaugural event held by the North of Ireland Veterinary Association and the NI Branch of the British Veterinary Association on May 15.

At Balmoral the associations welcomed the Minister for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs Andrew Muir, Minister for Health Robin Swann, Chair of the AERA Committee Tom Elliott, DAERA Permanent Secretary Katrina Godfrey and Chief Veterinary Officer Brian Dooher, along with others from the agri-food sector with an interest in animal health.

Speaking to the guests, joint NIVA and BVA-NI President Sharon Verner outlined the concerns of veterinary surgeons around future access to veterinary medicines, the need for an animal health and welfare strategy in NI and the news that NIVA will be bringing forward a consensus paper on equine welfare.

Sharon emphasised the need for a permanent solution to be found to secure access to a full range of veterinary medicines in NI after December 2025, at which point the Veterinary Medicines Directorate estimates that the supply of around 51% of veterinary medicines will be affected, impacting all livestock sectors here.

She spelled out the unacceptable risk of harm to animal and human health and welfare in NI posed by this and how the issue could also have serious ramifications for the Republic of Ireland.

Honorary Secretary Mark Little has worked extremely hard to progress this issue and BVA-NI has welcomed the UK Government’s working group and continues to strongly encourage interaction with the European Commission to identify a resolution.

Addressing the group, she called for sufficient resources to be made available to livestock health schemes in NI, to allow a long overdue focus on endemic diseases such as bovine TB, which should be dealt with by putting into place the considered and scientific recommendations of the TB Strategic Partnership Group.

Proven steps to help eradicate bovine TB have been demonstrated in other jurisdictions and the fact that NI is lagging behind is resulting in costs in terms of animal, production and associated environmental losses but also just as importantly, the effects on the mental wellbeing of farmers, and the
financial stability and viability of their farms, with a knock-on effect for vets working in a range of capacities with farmers.

On the future farming policy NIVA reiterated that the optimal achievement of DAERA’s objectives in terms of improving productivity, sustainability and resilience will only be possible where ‘co-ordinated’ efforts are made to improve animal health and welfare, and that the sheep sector should be included.

Tom Elliott, Esther Skelly-Smith, Sharon Verner, Minister Muir, Minister Swann, Kirsten Dunbar

BVA-NI is enthusiastic about contributing to future developments from the blueprint stage so that the greater and aggregated benefits that could result from tackling animal diseases at the multi-farm or regional level can be realised. Vets in NI recognise the need for a specific animal health and welfare strategy and would support DAERA in its development of such.

NIVA and BVA-NI Councils, representing veterinary surgeons from a range of working spheres, will continue to work hard for the farming and equine industries, the veterinary profession and the creatures under their care.

In a workstream being taken forward by Senior Vice-President Esther Skelly-Smith NIVA will shortly publish its priorities for equine welfare in Northern Ireland, which will call for important changes.

Finishing on a positive note, the NIVA and BVA-NI President Sharon Verner said she hoped the Balmoral event would be repeated in the tenure of Junior Vice-President Kirsten Dunbar, adding: “I know that from where we stand today, many of the challenges seem daunting, however I am optimistic that if we focus on finding solutions to the challenges that we will ‘think bigger’ in growing our agri-food industry, and we will also think about supporting those around us at the individual level.”

Sharon also praised the work of Rural Support’s Life Beyond initiative and thanked those attending for progressing the discussions and supporting the mutual ambitions and shared vision in working together for the highest standards and reputation of NI agriculture.