Category Archives: Events

Healthy, Wealthy Rural Communities

The Rural Economy Research Group (RERG) met for the fifth time in the House of Lords on the 28th October 2015. The annual meeting was attended by a broad range of peers, ministers, scientists, academics and vets and featured fascinating presentations on the future of rural businesses, the challenges facing the UK water industry and the importance of rural landscapes for human health. The meeting was kindly sponsored by the Royal Agricultural University, the University of Liverpool and the University of Nottingham and Chaired by Professor the Lord Trees of the Ross.

The theme of the meeting was “Healthy, Wealthy Rural Communities” and this broad title brought together a diverse group of speakers. Professor Paul Wilson (Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Nottingham) started the meeting with an overview of the UK agricultural sector using data from the Farm Business Survey that has been collecting data on farm businesses since 1936. In the UK there are currently 290,000 registered farmers with a total income of £5.4 billion. He discussed how the future might look for farmers if subsidies were removed and showed the variability in levels of reliance on subsidies across farming sectors from high reliance in cereal farmers and lowland grazing through to lower reliance in the pig and poultry sectors. He ended the talk by looking at the future of the dairy industry and asked the question “Will dairy farmers ever be happy again?”. The short answer is that some will and some won’t. There is huge variation in the profitability of dairy businesses with the top 10% making a profit of £80 per cow and the bottom 20% loosing £50 per cow. It was interesting to note that the top 10 most profitable dairy producers use relatively fewer concentrates and have lower yield per cow than some less profitable farms emphasising the importance of good farm practices to reduce cost per litre of milk and ensure that dairy businesses remain profitable.

The second talk came from Dr Robert Ward, Director of Science at the British Geological Survey. He started by describing how the resilience of water supply varies across the UK with South East England most at risk from drought. He explained how public water supplies are resilient to short-term droughts but private supplies are much more vulnerable. There are 100,000 private water supplies to rural communities suggesting that these communities are particularly at risk from the effects of drought. He described how the last 4 years have seen unprecedented fluctuations in water levels with both historical lows in 2012 and highs in 2014 and with climate models predicting drier summers and wetter winters the future challenges to the water industry remain uncertain. He ended his talk by discussing the problem of nitrate pollution in water supplies and the 3D modelling work that is being carried out to minimise the risk of aquifer pollution as a consequence of shale gas and oil extraction.

The final talk came from Dr Rebecca Lovell and Dr Ben Wheeler from the University of Exeter who discussed evidence for the positive effects of the natural environment on human health. In general those living in rural areas are reported to have better health and longer life expectancy and there is increasing recognition of the value of greenspaces in reducing stress and stimulating physical activity. Coastal areas of the UK receive 1.4 billion visits per year for the purposes of walking dogs alone and it has been estimated that these visits bring £19 billion to these areas. The value of rural landscapes extends far beyond agricultural income and the growing appreciation of the role of these landscapes for public services to human health and the environment is likely to play an increasing role in decision-making of farmers, land manager and policy makers.

Discussion of the future of Rural Economies over dinner in the Attlee Room at the house of Lords
Discussion of the future of rural economies over dinner in the Attlee Room at the House of Lords

The meeting ended with a dinner in the Attlee Room at the House of Lords and a lively and thought-provoking discussion of many of the points raised. It was clear to see how the future of rural economies is important not just for farmers but for all of us and inspiring to see such a broad range of people brought together to discuss the challenges that we face.  By working together we can help to ensure that rural economies remain sustainable and safeguard the natural environment that is essential to our future health and well-being.

Farming Fit for the Future report launch

Today, Lord Trees attended the launch of two reports that take a closer look at the state of the UK’s environment. The reports were produced by Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link), which brings together forty five voluntary organisations concerned with the conservation and protection of wildlife, countryside and the marine environment.

Liz Truss MP speaks at Link report launch
Liz Truss MP speaks at Link report launch

The report launch was sponsored by Dr Sarah Wollaston MP and Zac Goldsmith MP. The packed room received an address from Zac Goldsmith, Dr Elaine King (Director of Link), and Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for the Environment. Amongst other things, the latter revealed that Defra have installed a bee-friendly pollinator garden and beehive on the roof of Nobel House.

Although the report launches were aimed more broadly at the environment, farming and water course management, there were questions about food chain education, protecting production of various key commodities, global markets and trade, and ensuring that farming and food production can not only meet the changes and challenges ahead, but also do so with healthy, high welfare animals – plenty for the veterinary profession to get involved with.

 

 

The Veterinary Nurses (Protection of Title) Bill

Updated January 2016

What did we do?

On Tuesday 19 May Lord Trees submitted the ‘Veterinary Nurses (Protection of Title) Bill’ into the House of Lords Bill ballot.

As it is drawn up, the Bill would prohibit use of the title ‘veterinary nurse’ for any person whose name is not on our Register of Veterinary Nurses. Any non-registered person who used the title veterinary nurse or a name, title or description that implied they were on the Register would be guilty of an offence and may be fined or convicted under the Veterinary Surgeons Act.

Veterinary Nurse (Protection of Title) Bill

Why?

Currently the title ‘veterinary nurse’ is not protected, and this is a problem because it means anyone, even if they lack the relevant training and education, can refer to themselves as a veterinary nurse. The veterinary professions believe that this should change.

Registered veterinary nurses :

  • may give medical treatment to, or carry out minor surgery on, animals under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 under the direction of a veterinary surgeon.
  • commit to follow the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct, and keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date.
  • may be subject to our disciplinary process if they should fall short of their professional responsibilities.
  • may be suspended or removed from the Register at the direction of the RVN Disciplinary Committee if found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Consequently, we believe that it is inappropriate for people without formal training to describe themselves as a ‘veterinary nurse’, and that to do so potentially puts both animal welfare and the welfare of the individual employed as a veterinary nurse without qualification at risk.

Protection of the title is supported by the British Veterinary Nursing Association, the British Veterinary Association, the respective representative bodies for veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons in the UK, and also by their regulator, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

See more at: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/registration/about-the-vn-register/protect-the-title-veterinary-nurse

How to submit a Private Members Bill

  1. Ensure your sponsoring Peer has taken the Oath of Allegiance.
  2. Submit a Private Members Bill into the ballot.
  3. Get drawn early in the ballot to improve the chances of getting time in the chamber.

How did we do?

The Bill was submitted on time and was drawn 36 out of 44 bills entered into the Lords ballot. This relatively low position in the ballot decreases our chance of getting time in the chamber for the second reading of the Bill; in the House of Commons bill ballot, it is expected that the first seven bills drawn are usually debated in the chamber. The rest of the time in either chamber is devoted to Government-led legislation. If the Bill did make it through the Lords it would require sponsorship from an MP to pass through the Commons chamber and become law.

The introduction of the bill stimulated wide discussions and media attention and helped to raise the profile of this issue. An online petition was launched by the RCVS in August 2015 and received over 20,000 signatures (correct as of December 2015).

How did the Government respond?

Minister George Eustace discussed the protection of the title Veterinary Nurse with his DEFRA team and whilst they are extremely sympathetic with the aims of the bill we have been advised that it will not be supported by the government. The government believes that “the legal protection already in place to make sure that animals in veterinary care are treated only by individuals who are trained and qualified to do so” is sufficient and that “criminalising the use of the term “veterinary nurse” by other animal carers in a veterinary setting to be an unduly harsh solution.” To address the issue DEFRA have suggested that the “RCVS and the veterinary membership associations work with veterinary practices to encourage that only properly qualified, registered veterinary nurses should be referred to as such.”

Where do we go from here

Despite this position the government have shown willingness to continue discussions and have invited the RCVS “to discuss further with Defra how new thinking may require existing laws and regulations to be amended to bolster and clarify the role of veterinary nurses.”

 

BVA AWF Discussion Forum 2015

The Veterinary Policy Research Foundation (VPRF) took part in the popular and enjoyable BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum once again this year.

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Lord Trees and Chris Lawrence at the BVA AWF reception

The topics covered, including antimicrobial resistance, welfare at slaughter, population control and indiscriminate breeding, and the use of advanced veterinary practice. We took particular interest in Professor Steve Wotton’s talk on the latest research on the stunning of animals before slaughter and the nuances of appropriately stunning poultry to both effectively stun the birds regardless of their size and yet not induce cardiac arrest so that the stun is demonstrably irreversible – a necessity for Halal consumers.

There was a great deal of discussion and debate around the enforcement, or lack of, animal welfare law with particular reference to import/export and indiscriminate breeding. The general impression given by the veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in attendance was one of frustration that these oft discussed issues are still not being effectively addressed and impotence that when they are faced with a potential animal welfare issue there is no clear path to follow.

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Parliamentary Veterinary Intern and guests at the 2015 BVA AWF Reception.

The 2015 Discussion Forum concluded with a reception on the House of Commons terrace hosted by Neil Parish MP.

UK Antimicrobial Resistance Summit

Tuesday 18th November was European Antibiotics Awareness Day and the VPRF went along to participate in the UK Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Summit organised by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. The event was hosted at Nobel House by Professor the Lord Trees of the Ross, Member of the House of Lords, Nigel Gibbens, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Professor Peter Borriello, CEO, Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

EAAD_abx_infographic_2The aim of the meeting was to bring together livestock production industry leaders and animal health representatives from the relevant Government departments and make a unified move from raising awareness to action at a national level.

As part of the cross-Government 5 year AMR strategy substantial outcomes are expected from both the public and animal health sides. However, whilst the Department of Health and Public Health England have the single, public sector NHS to deliver their outcomes, DEFRA and the VMD have multiple different private industry sectors with different issues related to antibiotic use.

EAAD_abx_infographicGeorge Eustice MP (Defra Minister for farming, food and marine environment) and Dr Felicity Harvey ( Director General for Public Health, Department of Health) both spoke at the event to give a sense of the current position of their departments. Prof Borriello spoke on behalf of the VMD.  This was followed by the perspective from industry, with updates from the pig, poultry and dairy sectors, all of whom are at startlingly different stages in their understanding and reduction of antibiotic use.

After lunch there was a round table discussion to consider what had been heard that morning. The main conclusion was that before action can be taken accurate and appropriate data needs to be gathered in one place for in depth analysis. For example, currently it isn’t possible to separate data on sales of pig and poultry antimicrobials into which were used for pigs and which for poultry. Furthermore, sales are not representative of use. There is much work to be done.

Primates in Parliament

Wild Futures reception: Pet primates

Monday 17th November saw an evening reception organised by primate charity Wild Futures. The reception was in aid of their campaign to ban the UK pet primate trade. Many parliamentarians and celebrities have pledged their support for the campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the complicated and unhelpful nature of current regulation.

The reception was time to follow the recent EFRA select committee inquiry into primates as pets, where primate experts gave evidence in favour of an outright ban. Wild Futures estimates, along with the RSPCA that there are approximately 5,000 primates being kept as pets in the UK and evidence suggests that figure is growing – far more than the Government estimate. Wild Futures runs a sanctuary for ex-pet monkeys and argue that all of those rescued suffer physically and psychologically following their time kept as pets.

At the reception, hosted by Andrew Rosindell MP and Sheryll Murray MP, speeches were given by Wild Futures, the RSPCA, Dr Jane Goodall DBE, and Bill Oddie. Primate sculptures were also on display in the IPU Room and Westminster hall, by renowned sculptor Rudy Weller.

Hannah, the Parliamentary Veterinary Intern, had a good chat with Bill Oddie about the Wild Futures campaign and work to address the issue of the effects of diclofenac on wild vulture populations.

Hannah meets Bill Oddie
Hannah meets Bill Oddie

 

Waste not, want not?

Question for Short Debate: Food Waste

On Thursday 6th November, Baroness Scott, Chairperson of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee for Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy, asked the Government  what is their response to the Report of the European Union Committee on Counting the Cost of Food Waste: EU Food Waste Prevention.

Lord Trees joined this EU Sub-Committee late in the last session and is the only veterinarian sitting on the committee. In his speech he praised the report as valuable and timely and championed the idea of effective menu-planning as a strategy for individuals to reduce their food waste. He concluded by asking the Minister what other measures by way of public information, education and encouragement the Government have in progress to promote menu planning in our society.

Lord De Mauley responded to Lord Trees as follows:

“The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked about publicising Love Food Hate Waste. Information on choosing, cooking and eating a healthy diet is provided via NHS Choices, including the Change4Life social marketing campaign and guidance on healthier and more sustainable catering. The “eatwell plate” displays the proportions and types of foods that should be eaten as part of a healthy lifestyle. The Government’s Change4Life programme provides tools and resources that incentivise and encourage behaviour change; for example, the Meal Mixer app has been downloaded more than 1 million times and contains hundreds of quick, healthy and affordable family recipes.”

– HOL Hansard, 6 Nov 2014 : Columns 1849-1850

In his conclusion Lord De Mauley said:

“The committee’s report included a recommendation on the need to work with WRAP to deliver a whole-supply-chain approach. I agree that there is a need for policy and action to evolve to tackle food waste across the whole value chain and I recognise the close relationship between food waste, food security and sustainability. That is why we have been working closely with WRAP in its development of proposals for an initiative that looks at how the food we produce and eat can be more sustainable and secure and where waste can be further reduced. This is more than a mere successor to Courtauld 3 but it will continue and expand that work, and put the onus on industry to take greater ownership. This project should influence global supply chains and could therefore have an impact in the EU and beyond.”

– HOL Hansard, 6 Nov 2014 : Column 1850