The President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) used his annual London dinner speech last night to call on the Government to take action on veterinary student fees and the welfare of dogs and to respond to the consultation on dangerous dogs.

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for Defra, also addressed the guests, including parliamentarians, veterinary surgeons, and representatives from the agri-food industry, pet industry, welfare charities, research and veterinary education.

BVA President Harvey Locke began by raising concerns over cuts to animal health and welfare and disease surveillance budgets. He said:

"In the Comprehensive Spending Review Defra took one of the biggest hits. The profession remains deeply concerned that cuts in research and development and disease surveillance could have catastrophic consequences...

"We understand the immense downward pressure being exerted on Departmental budgets and competing priorities, but we would also caution against the unintended consequences of cuts that will have to be paid for in the future...

"Right now the UK enjoys some of the highest animal health and welfare standards in the world and so it is in all of our interests to ensure the viability of the farming sector amidst massive competition from abroad, where those standards may not always be as high."

On veterinary student fees, Mr Locke outlined the 'double whammy' of a long course and compulsory Extra Mural Studies in the holidays. He said:

"Our role as the guardians of animal health and welfare faces an uncertain future following the announcement that the cap on tuition fees will be raised to between 6 and 9 thousand pounds a year. We fear this could have a huge impact on the decisions of A-level students, with fewer and fewer opting for an expensive veterinary science degree.

"The BVA has been campaigning for many years to improve the financial situation for veterinary students who suffer the double whammy of an unsubsidised long course and additional financial burden of compulsory Extra Mural Studies (or EMS).

"Although the plans are not yet finalised we are bracing ourselves for veterinary degrees, which are costly to run, to be priced at the top of the scale, meaning veterinary students of the future will graduate with at least £45,000 of debt in tuition fees alone.

"Faced with these levels of debt, our concern is that those who do make it to graduation won't opt for the food animal practice and public health roles that attract smaller pay packages. We need to think carefully about how we can secure the future provision of large animal practitioners."

On companion animal issues Mr Locke asked Defra not to defer all decisions on dog welfare to the newly-formed Dog Advisory Council. He said:

"While the BVA fully supports the Advisory Council, we would urge the Government not to use it to delay decisions that might improve the health and welfare of dogs now.

"At a recent meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW) ...there was overwhelming support for provision for healthy breeding to be brought into Defra's welfare codes.

"We have long maintained that to ignore breeding in the dog welfare code is a serious oversight by Defra. In England we already have regulations that protect our farmed animals from breeding procedures that cause suffering or injury, but not for our pets.

"This contradictory approach makes little sense. Updating the welfare codes to include breeding would send a clear message that the Government is committed to improving the health and welfare of man's best friend."

On dangerous dogs Mr Locke renewed the BVA's call for the Government to respond to the Defra consultation, which found 77% in favour of scrapping breed-specific legislation. He said:

"Despite this overwhelming call from the public, the Government has kept its powder dry, repeatedly promising to announce its response soon...

"Secretary of State I would like to assure you that the BVA is prepared to work with all of the other organisations with an interest in dog welfare and public safety to find an effective solution.

"We all want to see people protected on private property; legislation that targets irresponsible owners and not just the way a dog looks; and tools that allow the police and other enforcement agencies to act swiftly to protect the public.

"And, crucially, we all want to work with you to achieve these aims."

British Veterinary Association

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