Plea to save animal vet lab from closure

A union has blasted plans to close a “world class” animal disease surveillance centre which carries out postmortem examinations on dead livestock.

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), which owns the site in Inverness, is consulting on veterinary service provision, including possible changes to the network of surveillance centres.

However, the Prospect union said no provision had been made for relocating the laboratory.

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Farmers in the Highlands will have to transport carcasses hundreds of miles to the next nearest labs in Perth, Thurso or Aberdeen, if the site in Inverness is closed, the union warned.

The Inverness laboratory could close as soon as this autumn under the cost-cutting plans announced by the SRUC.

This would save the college an estimated £150,000 per year, but also see service changes at another lab in Ayr.

Some 30 jobs across both sites are threatened by the plans, according to Prospect, which said the potential threat of a major disease outbreak  outweighed the “meagre savings”.

“If dead animals have to be transported over much greater distances this will increase the chances of spreading infection,” said Alan Denney, Prospect national secretary.

“Because of the extra time and effort involved, it may also mean that some animals will not get tested and we potentially miss an important early warning sign of an outbreak.”

The closure plans suggested that lessons had not been learned from previous foot-and-mouth outbreaks, he added.

“This has implications for both animal and human health. If we get another major outbreak of foot-and-mouth the livelihoods of countless farmers could be threatened and the costs could amount to hundreds of millions of pounds,” said Mr Denney.

“We’re also potentially talking about the spread of infections like bird flu and E coli, which could have grave implications for human health.”

NFU Scotland’s animal health and welfare policy manager Penny Johnston said: “We would not wish to see veterinary surveillance facilities close but were that to happen, then producers in affected areas must have a clear picture of how services will be delivered.”

In a recent restructuring of veterinary centres in England and Wales, the number of centres was reduced from 14 to six, with contractors replacing some services.

The consultation period will run for six weeks until 10 July. SRUC will then liaise with the Scottish government to finalise plans, and start employee consultation.