OVs: Doing the right thing - Veterinary Practice
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OVs: Doing the right thing

Richard Gard reports from the Official Veterinarians Conference 2016, which provided numerous updates on the state of play for OVs and their clients.

THERE WERE SOME 200 DELEGATES at the Of cial Veterinarians Conference 2016 located at the home of Improve International near Swindon.

Professor Nigel Gibbens (Chief Veterinary Officer) discussed the role of an OV with each of the small animal, large animal and equine streams. Speaking to the large animal group, he emphasised that the role was to “encourage people to do the right thing”.

Farmers are crucial to food safety and form part of food business. The OV supports the farmer to make a profit while at the same time being helpful to the environment and, most importantly, contributes greatly to consumer confidence in the safety of food. The official veterinarian is essential to protecting the health and welfare of our animal population. OVs form the majority of state veterinarians. Looking to the future, the CVO considers that the impact of climate change and global population provide an increasing expectation of food shortages with the UK continuing to keep producing to meet an increasing demand from the rest of the world.


Currently the UK is around 50% self-sufficient and this needs to be maintained or increased. Antimicrobial resistance is a real issue and a reduction from 62 to 50 mgms per kilo of livestock by the end of 2018 has been targeted.

The poultry sector will no longer be administering uoroquinolone to chicks and antibiotic usage in pigs is being monitored. MRSA has been identified as an issue for pig keepers in Holland.

The grazing livestock sector has a lower antibiotic use per animal but substitution and avoidance of antibiotics is important. Although the global impact on resistance by the UK is small, our approach assures involvement in ongoing awareness and discussions.

Disease surveillance has to be maintained regardless of leaving the EU. Practice data capture will create an environment where it is possible to collate all available knowledge of disease.

The UK will need to meet the multiple standards of trading with many countries. It is essential to maintain a reputation of accurate certification; “this is really, really important”, Gibbens emphasised. An OV is acting for the competent authority and not on behalf of the animal keeper.

The UK is not the best in the world and we have to be able to stand up to audit. Gibbens concluded: “We need our official veterinarians to be highly trained, motivated and professional as they deliver the majority of the veterinary professional services required by governments.”


Dr Amanda Carson (APHA) confirmed that, in 2016 to date, cases of Bluetongue have been confined to central and southern France. UK imports from known BTV risk areas have been routinely tested since June 2015 and all have been negative. No cases of infection have been confirmed in the UK and 46 suspected cases have been proved negative. It is important to be vigilant and midge incursion maps are routinely scrutinised.

Not all infected ruminants show clinical signs of disease. The quarterly emerging threats report and the monthly VI Centre newsletters to veterinary practices are intended to keep veterinary surgeons informed together with clinical videos from APHA/Pirbright on YouTube.

Certification solutions

Peter Jinman (chair of the RCVS certification subcommittee) considered, in depth, how to avoid certification problems. So far this year the College has received 762 complaints about veterinary surgeon certification. He implored veterinary surgeons to use certificates from the competent authority and not to “make up your own”.

Check the guidance and assume nothing: the official form may have been updated or other information on the form needs to be checked. Only sign originals, not copies and do not make deletions or alterations; the certificate may not be accepted by the imported country if there are alterations.

Also remember that the person reviewing the certificate may not have a good grasp of written English.

After Brexit, intra-community trade will be export trade and more certification can be anticipated. If the specific certification is outside of your competence, do seek advice. It is important to keep contemporaneous notes, dates, times, etc., in case the topic goes to court.

Relying on memory has been shown to be not enough and veterinary surgeons have been discredited in court by barristers where specific details are inaccurate. The RCVS has reviewed its guidance and advice and the 12 principles have been reduced to 10.

OVs are encouraged to make themselves familiar with the current advice and contact the College for help. There is no blame culture and if in doubt about procedure or recovering a difficult situation, ask for assistance.

Issues such as the difference between inspection and examination, the need for physical presence, the acceptability of a picture link, all the animals having to be seen or all boxes of product, for example, often need clarification.

Welfare issues

The title of this conference was Safeguarding Animal Welfare – the role of the OV and there were several presentations and discussions on the welfare issues.

Juan Velarde (APHA) considered the details of emergency slaughter where disease, severe pain or suffering makes treatment no longer a possibility and it is necessary to spare the animal further distress.

If the animal is not t to travel, then on-farm slaughter to high welfare standards requires attention to the methods and guidance available.

The speaker emphasised that the owner is responsible for the welfare of an animal and this led neatly into a presentation by Michelle Beer (senior Trading Standards officer) explaining aspects of local authority welfare prosecutions.

Case histories and pictures were used to demonstrate what appeared to be severe cases of neglect, but successful prosecutions and enforcement of the Animal Health and Welfare legislation require a full understanding by expert witnesses and all those involved.

Procedural failures, misinterpretation of the law and failure to meet the burden of proof were each highlighted. To see a llama hanging dead from a fork in a tree with other dead animals nearby would appear to be a clear case of animal welfare neglect, but not necessarily so in terms of a successful prosecution.

In circumstances where a farmer is served an enforcement notice to improve welfare conditions, and he complies with the details, then the farmer will not be prosecuted.

Co-operation between all stakeholders is required and correct procedure must be followed under the Police and Criminals Act to ensure the rights of the farmer are protected. It is evident that a veterinary surgeon needs to know exactly what is their role and responsibilities when involved with animal welfare.

The role of the OV to have a positive impact on cow welfare was promoted by Moyna Richey (APHA). The veterinary surgeon is ideally placed to “observe, assess and monitor the welfare of all classes of livestock on a unit”.

It is a legal requirement for the welfare codes to be known on-farm, including the five freedoms. It is also a requirement that the farmer knows where he can get help and advice.

It was emphasised that the veterinary surgeon will often carry out an initial assessment to welfare by visual stimuli, but a full welfare assessment includes cow behaviour, clinical signs, the environment and stockmanship. The view that the OV has a higher responsibility for welfare than for the comfort of the farmer was again emphasised by this presentation.

Potential zoonoses

Dr Lesley Larkin (Public Health England) provided an update on reportable and notifiable diseases in animals that are potential zoonoses. Of the notifiable and reportable diseases covered by national legislation, at least 20 have zoonotic potential.

There are now approximately 24 notifiable diseases in humans considered to be zoonotic. Molecular typing and pathogen characterisation methodology, combined with data collection and reporting systems, human and animal diagnostics, together with information dissemination have increased zoonoses awareness and accuracy.

Multidisciplinary national and international co-operation has the potential to reduce the impact of zoonotic disease. Detailed information is available from the PHE website.

  • The third OV conference is already being planned and delegates were asked for their views on content and arrangements.

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