What’s the future for animal health? - Veterinary Practice
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What’s the future for animal health?

Brexit was the focus of the NOAH Conference in November, where discussions centered around opportunities for improvement in the animal health sector.

The second NOAH meeting took place in London on 1 November. Delegates were given up-to-date information on regulatory issues, areas of collaboration and opportunities, with a broad range of speakers from the animal health sector. Changes in the policies surrounding animal health and welfare are of great concern to vets, producers and welfare bodies alike, and it is of utmost importance that these changes are representative of the animal health sector in its entirety.

It is NOAH’s vision to ensure an environment that ‘delivers a thriving animal medicines sector’ through:

  • Supporting trade and innovation.
  • Safeguarding animal health and welfare and public health and food safety; ensuring that UK veterinarians and animal keepers continue to have access to a wide range of appropriate veterinary medicines.
  • Ensuring businesses have access to skilled staff.
  • Incentivising product research and development within a regulatory system that continues to be one of the most stringent in the world – making the UK the first-choice world-leading regulatory authority.
  • Encouraging companies to do business in the UK.
  • Making transitional arrangements to support business continuity post-Brexit, utilising links with specialist EU infrastructure where necessary.
The panel discussed the importance of working together. Left to right: David Caffall, Mike Murray, Chris Laurence, David Calpin and Dawn Howard

NOAH Chief Executive, Dawn Howard introduced the day’s proceedings. Dawn pointed out the general feelings of unease towards national Brexit negotiations but sensed that there is a more positive outlook closer to home:

“There’s a general feeling that our own departments are actually dealing with this quite well and there’s good cooperation going on – so at one [national] level: quite a lot of dissatisfaction, but at our own local level, there’s more positivity and confidence within our own sector.”

Regulatory and political context

Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Officer, offered an insight into some of the ongoing preparations for leaving the EU, and described the sector’s responsibility for maintaining the UK’s status as a centre of excellence for animal health and welfare. He described the necessary steps to achieving this, noting that we must ensure the UK maintains its standards of animal health and welfare “to make sure that we’re a force to be reckoned with globally, as we step out to deal and trade globally to a greater extent than we ever have before.”

Nigel commended vets and scientists for their contributions to research and development, making the UK a respected provider of world-class innovation, a status that must continue post-Brexit. He went on to describe the significant impact that access to medicines has on allowing UK vets to provide world-class treatment, and how continuing access to EU medicines is critical to maintaining animal health standards within the UK.

This discussion was continued by Professor Peter Borriello, Chief Executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, who spoke about trade and bringing products to market within the EU, and opportunities with new markets post-exit. Peter attempted to provide some assurance for people concerned about decentralised and centralised marketing applications:

“I’m going to say something that hasn’t been said anywhere else: any product which is in the UK as a medicine, that has a mutual recognition or a decentralised procedure marketing application, automatically has a national one.

“A centralised procedure has a slightly different approach in the EU market, but we are committed to ensuring that every single product through the centralised route, that has been approved to date, in the UK, will be a legal product from the day that we leave. Those products will remain available and will remain legal.”

Rick Clayton, Technical Director at AnimalhealthEurope, highlighted where the review process of veterinary medicinal products is right now:

“We’ve got the Commissioning Proposal and we’ve got the European Parliament’s Report (agreed in March 2017), but it is important to note that they only adopted a provisional report; it was not taken to plenary and finalised. That means that the First Reading is not officially closed yet.”

“The Council Readings are now approaching an end of their procedure – the Estonian Presidency is riling to reach a Council Common Position by the end of November. If they achieve that, they will have taken 20 months but, in reality, the Council have been looking at it for 38 months.”

Working together

Mike Murray, Head of Quality and Environmental Standards at ABPI and member of the Life Sciences Coalition, highlighted the four key priorities for managing the issues being faced by the life sciences industry:

  1. Regulation – saving the framework we have right now.
  2. Trade – maintaining ease of trade and security of current import/export relationships.
  3. Research and development – maintaining access to high quality equipment to provide world-class research. Ensuring tight collaboration with EU research links. Maintaining intellectual property security.
  4. EU workforce – retaining and engaging the best staff we can.

Mike spoke of the importance of addressing UK government on key issues, but also stressed the critical nature of ‘getting our message across’ to the EU and its member states in recognition of the two-way process we are in.

The importance of having access to a skilled workforce to maintain animal health standards was reiterated by David Calpin, Chief Executive at BVA. The Veterinary Capability and Capacity Project sees collaboration of key stakeholders to ensure the UK has enough vets to meet its needs in the future. The BVA Brexit Working Group published their Brexit report in May this year, a collaborative project that has drawn on the wider knowledge and expertise of veterinary professionals, specialist divisions of veterinary associations, and industry partners and stakeholders. Recommendations were set out in the report, which included retaining subsidies and rewards for good management practices regarding animal health and welfare on farms.

​Discussing opportunities. Left to right: Julie Girling, Nick von Westenholz and Professor Janet Bainbr​

Securing our future

Julie Girling, MEP, South West England and Gibraltar, began the final session by addressing Brexit as a chance to improve the UK’s status across the animal health sector. Julie spoke of the need to stop discussing maintenance as an achievement: “I keep hearing the phrase ‘at least maintain animal welfare standards’ and people thinking that maintenance is going to be an achievement.” Brexit is only useful, she said, if we get something out of it that we aren’t currently getting; we need to look beyond the obvious to find added value.

Nick von Westenholz, Director of EU Exit and International Trade for NFU, followed with a discussion on some of the trade barriers that may face UK farmers post-exit. Trade tariffs and even non-tariff barriers could be highly costly to producers and traders looking to export from the UK, should a no-deal, hard-Brexit arise. The EU Trade Deal is therefore critical in its potential to provide a zero-tariff or low-tariff deal for trade with EU member states.

He highlighted three key areas that future policy needs to address:

  1. Managing volatility in the sector – reducing drastic price fluctuation.
  2. Environment – rewards for environmental stewardship/services and animal health and welfare.
  3. Productivity – an opportunity to maximise our output. Research and development; improving skills, training and knowledge exchange; improving advisory services; increasing financial capacity; maintaining/increasing investment in technology.

Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, Scientific Director of the Moredun Research Institute, concluded the panel discussion by looking at the future sustainable production research topics. These included: sustainable intensification; immunostimulants and bioactive peptides; multiplex diagnostic, antigen and pen-side testing; biosecurity and decision support tools; and general water quality and safety. She stressed the importance in taking a holistic, one-health approach to vaccine development and regulating antimicrobial use, and supporting research and development with EU colleagues.

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