A stark warning that potentially devastating diseases are set to go undetected until they are well established in the UK’s livestock herd, has come this week from Dr Sandy Clarke, SAC vet based at Thurso.

Dr Clarke, Scottish secretary of the British Veterinary Association, said that the steadily diminishing number of large animal vets meant that diseases such as Bluetongue, confirmed in Holland this week, could quietly become well established in the UK.

BVA officials and representatives from other industry bodies, including the Scottish NFU, met last week to discuss the problem which is generating increasing concern.

Dr Clarke said the BVA and others have highlighted the severity of the situation to DEFRA and SEERAD.

“We are now waiting for the government to come back to indicate if they require a certain level of disease surveillance and animal welfare,” Dr Clarke said.

“At the moment it seems they are saying they don’t but I can’t accept that.

“We will have serious problems because there will be diseases in this country which we don’t know are there. Sadly, an outbreak will not be picked up until it appears in an abattoir and at that stage the disease will already be established,”
he warned.

From a financial perspective, Dr Clarke added, a small amount of investment by the Government at the moment could save a large amount of money in the long-run if there is another major outbreak of disease, such as foot-and-mouth.

The ageing profile of the remaining large animal vets is being driven by the lack of viability of the livestock sector and the failure to appeal to new graduates.

“Young vet graduates don’t expect to be working every other night and on call every other weekend and they are struggling to pay off student loans.

“Up to now these have been in the region of £16,000 – £20,000 but now graduates of English vet courses are starting work with loans of up to £60,000 to pay back,” he said.

Dr Clarke said even with practices working together to try to provide large animal cover, huge holes are appearing throughout the UK, not just in remote areas of Scotland.

“This is a national problem affecting areas from inside the M25 and Essex to North Manchester and the Scilly Isles which are now without a large animal vet,” he said.

In many parts of the UK large animal vets are travelling over 100 miles to get to a client purely from a sense of obligation to the livestock, because the economics don’t make sense.

“The majority of the problem is down to the Government which has done a lot of damage in the past few years including changing the legislation relating to the sale of drugs and the withdrawal of drugs from the marketplace,” Dr Clarke said.