A Yorkshire veterinary services company says it faces a recruitment crisis because vets from overseas no longer want to work in the UK.
Leeds-based Eville & Jones provides a range of field veterinary services and meat inspectors to abattoirs and other businesses across the country.
Managing director Jason Aldiss said Brexit had the potential to decimate the veterinary sector because it made the UK a less attractive place to work.
A no-deal outcome would be “the worst of all worlds,” according to Dr Aldiss, who said his company was already 50 vets short and the deficit was increasing.
The UK would be “in deep peril” without guaranteed access to properly qualified vets from other EU states and mutual recognition of professional veterinary qualifications, he said.
Speaking at Visegrád Vet Plus near Budapest, Dr Aldiss said: “There is already a veterinary recruitment and retention crisis in the UK, and that problem is getting worse.”
Vets from other EU member states currently fill 45% of British government veterinary services posts. Some 95% of official veterinarians are non-UK EU vets.
With less than six months to go until Brexit, Dr Aldiss said there was still no guarantee that these individuals will be allowed to remain in post.
“Understandably, many have already chosen to leave the UK. At Eville & Jones, I am more than 50 vets short of what I need and that number is rising.”
He added: Our recruitment programme is running at full pace, but we’re not able to stem the flow of staff moving on.”
Dr Aldiss, who is also secretary general of the Union of European Veterinary Hygienists, said: “If the UK is to trade with Europe, it must maintain EU standards, at the very least.
“That means veterinary services must be properly funded to ensure high standards of animal welfare, animal hygiene and public health.”
The UK government must take swift action to address the shortage of vets and avert what was an impending catastrophe, said Dr Aldiss.
Last month, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that more progress was needed for Defra to implement the UK’s exit from the EU.
Without a significant increase in veterinary capacity, Defra would be unable to process the increased volume of export health certificates expected if there was no deal, it said.
An NAO progress report warned: “If there are not enough vets, consignments of food could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving the UK.”
Defra told the NAO it planned to launch an emergency recruitment campaign to bring capacity at least part-way towards the minimum level required.
Defra said it was confident it would be able to fill any remaining gaps – for example, by using non-veterinarians to check records and processes that do not require veterinary judgement.