The importance of Official Veterinarians - Veterinary Practice
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The importance of Official Veterinarians

The UK government is keen to increase certification capacity to cope with the expected increased demand for certification services after Brexit

Louise Macpherson

Louise Macpherson has been a vet for 15 years and now spends part of her time certifying goods for export as an Official Veterinarian (OV). She started her career in North Yorkshire and now works at Taylor Veterinary Practice, a small animal practice in Glasgow which is part of IVC Evidensia. She currently works three days a week certifying products for export to countries outside the EU.

Louise mostly certifies fish and fish by-products for export, but her job also includes a wide range of other products, certifying anything from sauces to caramel wafers.

Louise says she likes the varied nature of the OV work: “I’m nosy by nature, so I like going out to different warehouses and businesses. I feel sometimes we exist in a vet bubble, so it’s really interesting to get tours around facto-ries and get to see areas I wouldn’t normally see.”

From 1 January 2021, businesses will need an export health certificate (EHC) to export animals and animal products to the EU. This supports around £5 billion of trade to the EU. Certification of live animals and products of animal origin will be undertaken by an OV or, for certain products, Food Competent Certifying Officers (FCCOs) in local authorities.

For Louise, she feels that vets will have a vital role to play in helping businesses export their goods. “I get a lot of satis-faction being part of the process, helping customers sell their products; if it wasn’t for certifying vets like me, they wouldn’t be able to sell them in certain countries overseas. It feels that my role will become even more important from January, helping farmers, traders and the country export to the EU. It makes me very happy placing a seal on a truck, seeing it going into the sunset and knowing I’ve done my bit for it to get to its destination.”

The government is keen to increase certification capacity to cope with the expected increased demand for certification services. One of the measures is Defra funding the required training. This includes the latest round of funding of £500,000 for OV training for the export certification of animal products, equines and ungulates and for Certification Support Officer (CSO) training. Certifying Officers can use CSOs to help them check the factual evidence and collect the documentation needed for certification of a consignment (Box 1; OV briefing note 32/20).

Defra has made funding available for Official Veterinarian (OV) training for the export certification of animal products, equines and ungulates and for Certification Support Officer (CSO) training. This funding is to enable vets to gain the Official Controls Qualification (Veterinary) in Ungulate Exports (OCQ(V) – UX), Equine Exports (OCQ(V) – EQ) and Product Exports (OCQ(V) – PX). Also, if not already held, the prerequisite courses Essential Skills (OCQ(V) – ES) and Exports General (OCQ(V) – EX) are being funded. There is further information on how to apply for a funded place in the briefing note.

There are also funded places available for basic training of Certification Support Officers (CSOs) who support Certifying Officers in the delivery of export health certification for animal products. The use of CSOs is expected to increase the efficiency and productivity of OVs in providing export certification for animal products. Veterinary surgeons may wish to consider whether existing members of the practice may be appropriate for this training. They may also wish to appoint new staff in advance of the end of the transition period, in anticipation of the increased demand for certification at the end of the year and to take advantage of the availability of funded training.

Further information can be found in briefing note
32/20 at:
BOX (1) Would you like to do certification work?

Louise believes there is a misconception among vets about what is involved in OV work on certification. She thinks vets worry that it might be a very technical process, and is dry and boring compared to looking after animals. However, she says it isn’t the case: “I find being an OV really varied and interesting. Each day differs depending on which products I am certifying. You don’t have to know anything about treating fish, for example, it’s very much about transferable skills. The guidance notes that accompany the EHCs may appear technical but once you drill down into them it’s not as complicated as it seems at first read (Box 2). Once you get past the language and list of legislation that applies to the products, they are usually straightforward and provide details of all the information you need to certify the goods.This usually means checking the health approval numbers of the production facilities and factories. For more complex or processed products, such as sauces, it may involve gaining an understanding of the processes, looking through companies’ HACCP plans, ingredient lists and lists of suppliers.”

Businesses have been getting in touch with Louise’s Louise Macpherson practice and they are supporting them, planning for the end of the transition period. She believes that there will be a big increase in certification work and that this provides an opportunity for practices. She would encourage vets to do the training, because there will be plenty of work out there.

“As a vet student I never imagined I would be doing this kind of work; however, it’s very enjoyable and is increasingly an important thing to do – not just for vets but for the whole country to ensure that trade keeps moving after the end of the transition period.”

Once you complete your training, or if you already hold export OCQ(V)s, please make sure that your business is registered for EHC Online which is the digital service that exporting businesses and certifiers will use to apply for and manage EHC applications. Exporting businesses will select you as their certifier in EHC Online when they submit EHC applications. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is the government agency that administers and oversees the issuing of EHCs. APHA undertakes checks and assurance that the process is being followed correctly before EHCs are issued. As a certifier you will not be able to receive certificates from APHA if you are not registered for EHC Online. If you need help registering for EHC Online or have any operational and technical queries relating to an EHC application, check APHA’s Vet Gateway where guidance is available. Please check that your vet practice does not already have an EHC Online account before registering. You may also want to list your vet practice on the page, which can help businesses find a certifier.
BOX (2) Further information about export health certificates

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