Veterinary surgeons willing to operate in rural practices are increasingly rare, posing significant concerns for animal health and welfare around the world.

“Animal health and welfare demands a partnership between government, farmers and private vets and many countries are seeing problems attracting and retaining large animal vets,” Barry O’Neil, deputy director general of MAF Biosecurity New Zealand and president of the World Organisation for Animal Health OIE, said in London last week.

He attributed the difficulty to an increasing urban focus, long hours, inferior facilities and under-investment in rural practices.

“Government has a role to play, and I am keenly aware of the controversy around the challenge to the use of prescription only vet medicines in the UK and New Zealand. But farming needs to realise the risks to its industry if this problem is not addressed.”

In the US $1bn (£500m) is being invested in veterinary medicine training schools, Australia is stepping up its training programmes in a similar way and Canada has set up a reserve fund to improve the economic performance of rural vets, he noted.

* This is the fourth article in a special FWi mini-series profiling OIE President Barry O’Brien’s speech in London on Tuesday 20 May 2008.

Next article: Live Exports Restricted appears Friday 30 May.

See: Cost and responsibility sharing roadshow.