The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has clarified the legal position on the disbudding of goats, following recent media reports concerning undercover filming on UK goat farms.
The RCVS is reminding farmers that only a vet may undertake the disbudding of goats, and due to the nature of the procedure, anaesthetic should be administered.
The statement comes after animal campaign group Viva! claimed in June that undercover film footage showed goats having the tips or buds of their horns burnt off with the use of metal tools, some without anaesthetic.
"The carrying out of any activity which amounts to veterinary surgery is restricted to veterinary surgeons," said Eleanor Ferguson, acting head of processional conduct at the RCVS.
"Under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 The removal of the horn-bud of goats (disbudding) is considered veterinary surgery."
While certain exemptions are in place, such as those allowing vet nurses and student vet nurses to undertake the medical treatment, the exemptions do not allow other people to undertake the disbudding of goats.
"The carrying out of any activity which amounts to veterinary surgery is restricted to veterinary surgeons."
Trimming of the insensitive tip of an in-growing horn which, if untreated, may cause pain or distress is permitted, but disbudding is restricted to veterinary surgeons.
While regulations in England, Wales and Scotland all include disbudding of goats as a procedure which can be carried out for non-therapeutic reasons, this secondary legislation is subject to the restrictions in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and therefore disbudding of goats is restricted to veterinary surgeons.
The Welfare of Animals Regulations for Northern Ireland includes disbudding as a procedure which may be carried out by non-veterinary surgeons.
However, the Veterinary Surgeons Act applies to Northern Ireland and the Regulations are scheduled to be amended later in 2012.
"This will make it clear that only veterinary surgeons may disbud goats in the UK," added Ms Ferguson.
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