The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has used its Northern Ireland meeting to call on the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to ensure legal and financial support for animal health in the coming years.BVA President Peter Jones also used the opportunity to call for more government action to promote the new welfare codes for companion and large animals under the Welfare of Animals Act to the public.Northern Ireland's Chief Veterinary Officer Bert Houston responded for the guests as DARD Minister Michelle O'Neill was unable to attend.On disease eradication and the formation of Animal Health and Welfare NI, Mr Jones said:
“It’s no secret that disease eradication is a long hard slog and it takes enormous commitment from industry, government and the veterinary profession.
“In September we warmly welcomed the formation of Animal Health and Welfare NI and praised industry for taking the lead in this initiative to deal systematically with production animal diseases.
“We were pleased to note the Minister’s strong support for the initiative when it was launched and we hope that the financial and legal support it needs from the Department will soon be forthcoming.
“Tackling two endemic diseases such as BVD and Johne’s disease at the same time is an ambitious project to say the least. It will have to be carefully programmed and it can only succeed through a true partnership between industry and government.”
On last month’s news that Schmallenberg virus has reached Northern Ireland, Mr Jones added:
“The recent emergence of Schmallenberg virus in northern Europe – and Bluetongue before it – is a perfect illustration of the need for robust surveillance systems, excellent research facilities, and an understanding of the risks involved in sourcing animals.
“Last month we learned that Schmallenberg had reached Northern Ireland. While this news was not surprising we know that it will have come as a blow to local farmers, as it has done to each of the farming communities it has hit.
“We are constantly learning more about the disease and it is essential that vets and farmers remain vigilant and report any suspicious cases in order to help us build a more complete picture. What we do know is that Schmallenberg has an incredible capacity to spread, moving a long way and over bodies of water in a relatively short period of time.
“When the virus reached the UK at the start of 2012 the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute was quick off the mark to begin its work on a test, demonstrating the need for a responsive and efficient laboratory resource.”
On the welfare codes under the Welfare of Animals Act, Jones said:
“The five welfare needs enshrined in the Act, and explained through the codes, are vitally important for every animal keeper’s understanding of how to provide the right level of care. But there is a significant challenge in educating the animal-owning public.
“A recent report by the PDSA revealed that only 1 in 3 pet owners in the UK are familiar with the Welfare of Animals Act (and its equivalents in Great Britain). That should be of real concern to us all.
“The content of the welfare codes needs to reach the general public if it is to have any real impact. We were therefore disappointed to note that there has been very little fanfare in terms of launching the codes and we would urge the Department to think again about how to publicise the important messages contained in them.”