Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Shortage of UK Government vets risks delays to shipments of animals and meat at border

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

A lack of UK Government vets risks exports animals and animal products being delayed at the UK border in a no-deal Brexit scenario, according to the UK Parliament’s own Public Accounts Committee.

In a report, on the UK Department of Agriculture’s progress towards Brexit, it highlighted that in the event of a no-deal exit of the UK from the European Union, the continued shipments of animals and animal products to EU member states will for the first time need to be accompanied by export health certificates.

These certificates currently have to be signed off by vets and the UK Department estimates that the equivalent of around 50 additional full-time vets will be needed to cope with the extra volume.

However, the committee said the actual number of people required would be many more than 50 and said the UK Department is 'cavalier' about enough suitably qualified staff to take on this work being available.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) said there is a need for urgent action to guard against shortfalls in workforce capacity after Brexit.

It says even when access to the Single Market is achieved, there have been warnings previously that a no-deal Brexit could lead to a 325pc increase in the volume of products requiring veterinary certification as they leave and enter the UK.

BVA has warned that Brexit could exacerbate existing shortages and recruitment problems in the workforce and is calling for vets to be reinstated on the Shortage Occupation List to safeguard against shortfalls in capacity.

Simon Doherty, BVA President, said “we have had assurances from Government that there will be enough vets to meet certification demand after Brexit but this does not necessarily tally with what we are hearing from our members. 

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“Many are concerned that they could end up being spread too thin and having to take on extra certification responsibilities on top of existing heavy workloads if no agreement is reached. 

“It’s telling that the committee has called Defra ‘cavalier’ for assuming that only 50 further vets will be enough to meet these requirements.

“It is critical that the government fully engages with the veterinary profession on matters which may have a bearing on their vital work supporting animal welfare, public health and future trade,” he said.

The Government here has commenced a phased process of recruitment of additional staff to carry out the significantly increased volumes of import controls and export certification arising from Brexit.

An amount of €4 million has been set aside for this purpose, with a further initial provision in 2019 of just over €3 million to address ICT hardware and software requirements.

Further expenditure is planned in these areas in 2020 and 2021, with full-year staffing costs from 2021 estimated to be of the order of €28 million.

This phased recruitment involves the recruitment of up to 116 staff for Sanitary, Phytosanitary and fisheries controls in 2019.

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