Brexit and Veterinary Research

Lord Trees and the Parliamentary Intern have recently been very active in researching and speaking up on the potential impacts which Brexit may have on research and higher education.

Today, an article written by Lord Trees was published in the RCVS Knowledge website “Veterinary Evidence Online“. The article includes commentary on the impacts which Brexit may have on: the future availability of funding for research in the UK, the capacity for international collaboration, and the geographical movements of researchers and students.

The full article is freely available here

Since the UK referendum on EU membership in June this year, Lord Trees has submitted a written question and spoken in three debates in the House of Lords chamber concerning research and higher education. Links are available below:

Written question:
07/07/2016   Research: Finance

Oral contributions:
20/07/2016   Brexit: UK Universities
03/11/2016    Brexit: Impact on Universities and Scientific research
27/11/2016    Immigration: Overseas Students


Parliamentary Veterinary Intern interviewed in Westminster

Parliamentary Veterinary Intern Anthony Ridge was recently interviewed outside the Palace of Westminster for a British Veterinary Association (BVA) video exploring the wide ranging career opportunities available to veterinarians. The video “Where can a veterinary degree take you?” was produced in association with ITN Productions and also features Hannah Jordan, Parliamentary Veterinary Intern 2013-2015 and currently Policy Officer at the BVA.

The BVA “Veterinary View” series is available to view here.

Brexit: A veterinary Fact File

In the wake of the referendum result and as parliamentary and international events continue to unfold we have been busy putting together a fact-file of information we feel is relevant to  veterinarians.

The document is available here and includes information relating to:

  1. EU legislation
  2. Workforce
  3. RCVS impacts
  4. Pharmaceuticals
  5. Surveillance and biosecurity
  6. Animal Welfare
  7. Food and farming
  8. Research

Facts have been drawn from a wide variety of sources (including HM Government, BVA, RCVSNOAH, NFU, RSPCA and The Royal Society).

18 October 2016 – First published
24 October 2016 – Table added – HM Treasury: gross and net EU contributions

Lord Trees to host meeting of young vets at the House of Lords

Trees big benOn Wednesday 14th September Lord Trees will be hosting 40 young vets at the House of Lords for a roundtable discussion on experiences both in clinical practice and in non-clinical careers. The event is free to attend and will also include lunch, refreshments and an optional tour of the Palace of Westminster. The event is kindly being supported by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association as part of the Vet Futures initiative and offers the opportunity not only to visit the House of Lords and share your experiences in the profession but also to help guide actions being taken to improve veterinary wellbeing and career satisfaction. To apply to attend visit: and complete the online form by Friday 22nd July. If you are unable to attend in person but would like to contribute to the discussion the online form can also be used to submit comments or suggestions.

Should the event be oversubscribed, priority will be given to vets who qualified in 2010-2012 and also to those able to recommend a fellow young vet not currently working in clinical practice. For further information e-mail Anthony Ridge (Parliamentary Veterinary Intern): More information on the Vet Futures initiative is available at

Ensuring the Future Funding of Equine Veterinary Research and Education

A proposed change to the levy funding structure could have major implications for the future of equine veterinary research and education. The horseracing industry is heavily dependent on a levy collected from bookmakers but in recent years there has been a decline in levy funding associated with rapid increases in online and overseas gambling that are not subject to the levy. In response the Government have announced plans to modify the levy in order to widen the source of funding and ensure the sustainability of the racing industry (worth £3.5 billion to the UK economy) but there are concerns that the way the levy is modified could dramatically reduce the funding available for veterinary research and for the provision of specialist veterinary training programs.

The Horserace Betting and Levy Board (HBLB) currently collect and administer the funds that amount to approximately £70 million per year. Whilst the majority of this funding is used for the improvement of horseracing (primarily through its allocation as prize money) the levy also provides vitally important funding for equine veterinary research and education (approx. £1.8 million per year) and also for the preservation of rare-breeds of horses (approx. £115,000 per year). Several groups including the HBLB Veterinary Advisory Committee, the British Equine Veterinary Association and the British Horseracing Association have expressed concerns that these relatively small but highly significant forms of funding may not be fully recognized during the proposed modification of the levy funding structure.

Lord Trees took the opportunity of the debate last night to speak in support of the vital role that HBLB funding has played in improving the health and welfare of horses in the UK.  A transcript of the debate is available here.

Lord Trees asked the minister representing the Government for reassurance that the level of funding for equine research and education would be maintained and that it would be administered by an independent organisation. We were disappointed that the minister did not give us the full reassurance we requested however it is likely that the Government will take the concerns raised into account particularly as the Lord Trees’ views were shared by several other Peers in the debate. We will continue to seek every opportunity to press the government on this important issue in order to ensure that the importance of maintaining the health and welfare of the horses is fully recognized by the new levy system that is expected to commence in April 2017.


Lord Trees visits Hampshire farms with EU committee

Last week Lord Trees visited Kingsclere Estate, Manydown Farm, and Vitacress Salads Ltd  alongside other members of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. 

For the last two years Lord Trees has been a committee member of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee that meets weekly to scrutinize legislative proposals from the EU commission. Fluctuations in the market prices for agricultural products (price volatility) poses a major threat to the financial security of farmers and to the sustainability of food supply in the EU. In response, the committee is currently working on an inquiry into creating a more resilient agricultural sector. The final report from the inquiry is due to be published in early May 2016.

The chairman of the committee,  Baroness Scott of Needham Market, said:

“Our visit to the Hampshire really brought our current inquiry to life. It was an honour to hear from farmers who have had to weather the storm of price volatility in recent months and years. What was clear from our conversations was that price volatility is here to stay and that the true potential of much of UK agriculture depends on farmers’ ability to innovate and diversify. We were impressed with the vision and the confidence of the people we met and we were grateful for the time that they took to share their thoughts with us as we begin to prepare our final report.”

Left: Lord Trees (centre) with Baroness Scott of Needham Market, the chairman of the Sub-Committee (second left) discussing soil structure at Kingsclere Estate.
Right: Lord Trees observing salad processing at Vitacress Salads Ltd.

VPRF Annual Report and AGM

Last week the we hosted the third VPRF AGM at the House of Lords and presented our Annual Report including a summary of our activities over the last year.

Highlights from 2015

Lord Trees took part in a range of debates with topics including dog breeding, the dairy industry, welfare of animals at slaughter, hunting and Lyme disease.

Lord Trees became a member of the House of Lords EU select committee in 2015 and continued his work as a member of the EU Sub-Committee for Energy and Environment (formerly Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy).

In May 2015 Lord Trees submitted a private members bill calling for the protection of the title “Veterinary Nurse”.

Our new parliamentary veterinary intern Anthony Ridge joined the VPRF in October 2015.

The VPRF fact file on non-stun slaughter was been updated in November 2015 with new figures on the numbers of animals involved and an update on the relevant legislation. 

Thank you to our sponsors

The VPRF relies on sponsorship in order to continue the work that we do. At present our sponsors include RCVS, NOAH, BVA, BSAVA, CVS, Medivet, Goddard Veterinary Group, Willows Veterinary Group, Royal Veterinary College, Nottingham Veterinary School, Liverpool Veterinary School and Lord Trees. We were very pleased to meet with representatives from so many of our sponsors last week and grateful for the positive feedback and many supportive comments we received.

If you are interested in sponsoring the work of the VPRF or would like to find out more about what we do please do not hesitate to contact us.

What is in store for 2016?

2016 is likely to be a landmark year for global decision making on combating the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. We are currently creating a fact file on UK antimicrobial resistance and will seek to support rational and proportionate steps that balance the need to maintain the health and welfare of both humans and animals.

We will continue to speak up on issues related to animal welfare and plan to table a question on the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses.

Microchipping of dogs becomes mandatory on 6th April 2016 and we will monitor and respond to any concerns raised by the veterinary profession.

DEFRA have launched a consultation on animal licensing with a view to update and consolidate rules on the licensing of animal related activities including the sale of pets. This presents a great opportunity to address concerns over the unregulated trade of animals via the internet, puppy farming and the welfare of exotic pets. We will follow this closely and seek to contribute to relevant meetings or debates.

Next week Lord Trees has initiated a debate on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and in February we will be hosting the launch of the Global Network for Rabies Control’s End Rabies Now campaign.

Debate on welfare of animals at slaughter

The recent introduction of the new Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing (England) 2015 regulations (WATOK) has been the focus of a debate last night in the House of Lords.


EU regulation 1099/2009 on protection of animals at time of killing came into effect in 2013. The purpose of the regulation is to enhance protection of animals at the time of slaughter by establishing standard operating procedures to reduce pain and suffering of animals, improve training of personnel through the introduction of certificates of competence and regulate the use of equipment (including the use of stunning equipment). Annex I of the regulations include specific requirements for the stunning prior to slaughter based on a scientific review performed by the European Food Safety Authority.

For many slaughter houses in the UK, compliance with the EU regulations requires an increase in the currents used for electrical stunning of poultry in a water-bath. The parameters were set in an attempt to ensure that stunning is effective following evidence that at low currents birds are likely to remain conscious despite appearing to be stunned. However, there have been objections from the Islamic community that the higher currents are more likely to kill birds rather than stun them and prevent meat from being classed as Halal. There have also been objections from meat producers that the higher currents are likely to cause damage to meat.

The Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing (WATOK) regulations implement the EU Regulations in the UK. WATOK regulations were due to come into effect in England in May 2014 but were withdrawn at the last minute due to concerns over the impact of the regulations on religious slaughter. The legal requirement for EU recommended stunning methods to be followed for stunning prior to religious slaughter was removed and the new WATOK regulations came into effect on 5th November 2015. This contrasts with Wales and Northern Ireland where WATOK regulations do specify that the EU recommended stunning parameters must followed when stunning prior to religious slaughter.

The debate

The introduction of the English WATOK regulations were met with concern from the BVA over English poultry failing to be effectively stunned under the new regulations. This was reported on in the Veterinary Record and the Times newspaper.

In response, Lord Hodgson raised a motion of regret in the House of Lords to highlight the issue and create an opportunity for debate on the welfare of animals at slaughter. Lord Trees spoke in this debate today and a transcript from the debate will soon be available here.

The broader picture

This debate is part of wider discussion over the use of stunning to safeguard the welfare of animals at slaughter. It remains legal in the UK to slaughter animals without prior stunning in order to allow for Halal and Shechita traditions to be maintained and we have recently updated a document that summarises the key facts concerning non-stun slaughter in the UK.

We regard stunning as an essential means by which to reduce pain and suffering of animals at slaughter and would support efforts to ensure that stunning is carried out in all cases and is performed using means that are proven to be effective in safeguarding animal welfare. Almost a billion animals are slaughtered for food each year in the UK and we have a moral obligation to ensure that this process affords each animal the highest possible standards of welfare.




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.