BVA President calls on politicians to deliver Kept Animals Bill

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Malcolm Morley warns politicians that UK public health is at serious risk from rapidly rising cases of imported dog disease Brucella canis unless the Government stands by its commitment to deliver the Kept Animals Bill.

Speaking at BVA’s London dinner – attended by the Minister for Biosecurity, Marine and Rural Affairs Lord Benyon, alongside MPs, peers and members of the veterinary profession – Dr. Morley outlined rapidly rising cases of Brucella canis, a disease not seen in the UK until recently. This trojan disease not only affects dogs, but human cases can cause serious lifelong illness and is a real threat to both owners and veterinary teams.

Dr. Morley said: “Measures within the [Kept Animals Bill] to prohibit the import of puppies and pregnant bitches would contribute to reducing that risk, particularly alongside much-needed pre-import testing for Brucella canis. Now is the time for us to shut the door on this disease and the Kept Animals Bill will contribute to that.”

BVA’s President also called on politicians to close legal loopholes enabling the ‘shameful’ rise in the number of dogs in the UK with cropped ears, calling it ‘a brutal mutilation, fuelled by fashion, celebrity culture and social media.’

Dr. Morley said: “Throughout the UK we have seen a significant rise in the number of ear-cropped dogs, a brutal mutilation that is being fuelled by fashion, celebrity culture and social media. This is a shameful and illegal practice that is enabled legal loopholes. The Kept Animals Bill is a ready-made package of measures that will close those loopholes and tackle the issue.”

The Kept Animals Bill also addresses crucial issues like livestock worrying, zoo standards, and licensing for privately kept primates. The potential impact of the Bill on animal welfare is significant and Dr. Morley stressed how important it is that the package should not get broken down.

“[The Kept Animals Bill’s] power and strength in terms of improving the health and welfare of millions of animals, comes from its breadth and depth, which will be lost if the Bill does not continue in its current format.  It is estimated that just five hours of Commons time is needed to complete the report stage. Failing to progress the Kept Animals Bill would waste an opportunity to tackle measures which our profession and the public care about most deeply.”

During his address Dr. Morley also talked about the need for new legislation to replace the outdated Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.

On the issue, Dr. Morley said: “Vets and vet nurses do not work in isolation…the current [Veterinary Surgeons Act] does not reflect the importance of these roles and the need to maintain standards…it may surprise many of you, and certainly most animal owners that veterinary businesses themselves are largely unregulated.

“There is also a particularly pressing need to protect the title of ‘veterinary nurse’. Currently any of you in this room could describe yourselves as a veterinary nurse, which is extraordinary, and misleading given the expertise and training of these registered veterinary nurses, and we should all support efforts to secure protection of the title.

“The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons have led on this issue and together we are clear about the need for reform of the 1966 Act….there are serious implications if this legislation is not reformed, for our professions and the animals we care for. I urge all political parties to include this in their manifestos for the next general election.”

Dr. Morley also talked about the key role vets play in ensuring public health through a ‘One Health’ approach. Internationally recognised by the UN, the WHO, G7 and the World Office for Animal Health, Dr. Morley outlined One Health as ‘the intersection between human health, animal health and our shared environment.’

“In June last year, we all held our breath as concerns were raised about a possible Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in Norfolk. Thankfully it was not Foot and Mouth Disease, but I can tell you with certainty that the UK would have been under-resourced to handle such an incident alongside Avian Influenza, and the same would apply to other diseases such as African Swine Fever.” 

He added: “The last time this country saw Foot and Mouth Disease, it is estimated to have cost the combined public and private sectors £8.5 billion. The Covid-19 pandemic had its origins in zoonotic disease, along with many of the other recent or ongoing threats such as HIV, Ebola, Monkey Pox, SARS and of course influenza. Vigilance is key, and animal health is the front line of preventing future pandemics.

“Money invested in animal health and national biosecurity goes so much further by also supporting human health, the environment and the sustainability and productivity of our food sector. Investment in the people and infrastructure of public sector veterinary services is vital for the UK.”

Full speech available on request.

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