‘Border vets will not result in vet shortage’ – department

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has confirmed this week that veterinary services and the supply of vets on the ground will not be adversely impacted by the Government’s Brexit Border Contingency Plan.

Earlier this month the department invited vets to register for Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) under the contingency plan and this led to a number of farming organisations pointing to a subsequent shortage of veterinary manpower – a situation, they added, that would impact farmers the most.

Animal Health Committee chairman with the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Pat Farrell said the association had been highlighting “the threat to competitive large animal veterinary services” for farmers throughout the country since 2017.

There is a need for a review of all components of the service.

Farrell added: “The minister must ensure the structure and supports are in place to provide all farmers with a competitive large animal veterinary service at reasonable charges; the possibility of additional controls because of Brexit is also an issue for the availability of vets for farmers.”

The chairman went on to say that the provision of a competitive large animal veterinary service was a complex issue “with multiple factors” that could contribute to a “diminishing” service to farmers.

This issue can only be addressed by reviewing all components that contribute to the service.

Farrell continued: “These components include: the pathways to qualification for vets; the obligations set by the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI); the unique nature of the service required by farmers; the demographics of the farm; animal population; and the extremely low income of farmers dependent on this service.”

Multiple Contingencies

Meanwhile, the department said the BIPs initiative represented just one part of a broader response with regard to staffing.

It also pointed out that it was endeavouring to address “multiple Brexit contingencies” in both “the near and longer term”.

“Other strands of the department’s response includes external recruitment via our partners in the Public Appointments Service and also redeployment options within the department,” a spokesperson added.

The department went on to say that the vast majority of posts will not include vets.

“Checks under the official controls regulations will be carried out primarily by portal inspectors under the supervision of relevant veterinary staff; the department will deploy in the region of 230 staff resources in a range of disciplines as part of its Brexit response,” added the spokesperson.

“This will include new recruits, redeployed staff and those on temporary contracts. There is no reason to assume that the contracting of veterinary inspection services at BIPs at ports and airports would have any broader market displacement effects.”

‘Shortage Assessment’

In a statement to AgriLand deputy president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) Lorcan McCabe said the availability of vets “is becoming a bigger issue”.

McCabe pointed to the necessity of putting a plan in place to ensure that sufficient numbers of vets were available to provide an effective veterinary service at a reasonable cost over the next 20 years.

The farmer/vet relationship is hugely important from an animal health and welfare perspective and, certainly, the recent call for vets to apply for BIPs is clearly of concern and adds to the wider issue of the availability of vets.

ICMSA says an assessment is required with regard to the future direction of  veterinary services for farmers.

McCabe said structures needed to be put in place to ensure that a cost-efficient veterinary service was available to farmers in all areas of the country.

“The department needs to be very conscious of the possible impact on veterinary services for farmers of these Brexit related BIPs which we all hope will not have to be put in place.

“The department needs to take steps to ensure that farmers’ veterinary services are not undermined by this process,” he concluded.