111.Biosecurity is the monitoring and prevention of “natural and accidental threats associated with either animal diseases, plant diseases and pests or invasive non-native species, have the potential to cause devastating effects on the nation’s health, security and economy.” Enhancing biosecurity protects animal, plant and human health. biosecurity is a primary reason why the movement of animals across Britain’s borders is regulated. It allows trading partners, consumers, and the agricultural industry to be confident in the high UK standards of food safety, animal and plant health. This chapter will consider the systems which monitor animal disease, the need for pre-import health checks and veterinary capacity in the post-transition period.
112.The Animal and Plant Health Agency is responsible for plant and animal disease surveillance in England, Scotland and Wales. In their written evidence Defra told the Committee that the UK has a “world-class” network of animal health risk analysts who carry out “horizon scanning and risk analysis, including monitoring developments around the world.”
113.The European Union’s disease monitoring system is called the Animal Disease Notification System (ADNS). ADNS is no longer available to the UK as continued access was not negotiated as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. While ADNS is an EU system, there is already a precedent for countries outside of the EU having access in Switzerland, Norway and Turkey. The UK continues to have access to the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS), the disease notification system from the World Organisation for Animal Health. Beyond the WAHIS, information about animal disease in Europe is now coordinated through the Chief Veterinary Officer, Professor Christine Middlemiss. She said that she is responsible for “the assurance and verification of our disease status.” and that all updates go through her or her office. This now includes EU member states. She told us that she has put in place an “SPS trade and assurance office” to fulfil the “function that the EU did for us with the rest of the world and informing them.”
114.Representatives of the NFU and the BVA told us they were concerned about this arrangement. The NFU stated that ADNS is “quicker and more detailed than WAHIS.” They explained that “Since 1st January , the UK has only received information on outbreaks across the EU and the rest of the world because of good bilateral links within APHA to other countries.” James Russell, President of the BVA, said that if the UK does not regain access to the ADNS, “We would just be fighting to keep diseases away from our borders in a fog.” He explained “we have absolute faith in [the Chief Veterinary Officer’s] ability to make a risk judgment on that as a veterinary surgeon, but it places a huge onus on her shoulders and we need to be ready to be very responsive to … the alteration in risk profile of disease states across the Channel.”
115.Ian Hewitt, Interim CEO of the Animal and Plant Health Agency told us that having access to the ADNS “would mean that we have that holistic source, rather than having to go to disparate sources and trying to marry it up. It takes time and effort to try to do so, and speed is of the essence.” This view was shared by the Chief Vet. APHA said “We have alternative solutions in place and under development.”
116.Diseases do not recognise borders. Enhancing biosecurity protects animal, plant and human health. Although we have full faith in the Chief Veterinary Officer, it would be easier to monitor animal diseases in our closest neighbours if the UK regained access to the Animal Disease Notification System. ADNS is a quick and reliable system, and it would help to remove the opportunity for human error. Regaining access to the ADNS would also benefit our European neighbours as it would allow them to better monitor disease in the UK. This is a win, win situation. Failing to regain access could have catastrophic consequences for UK biosecurity, so the Government should work with the EU to regain Britain’s access to the ADNS as a matter of urgency Defra should update this committee on its efforts .
117.Veterinary capacity has been a pervasive issue across this inquiry, and our previous inquiries into Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU and the Labour in the Food Supply Chain. The key question has been whether there would be enough Official Veterinarians (OVs) to carry out the extra certification work required following the end of the transition period. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) estimated that there was already a 12% shortfall in UK veterinary capacity in 2018.
118.As suggested by RCVS and RSPCA, this shortfall could be exacerbated by the lack of mutual recognition of veterinary qualifications within the TCA. This is significant because the veterinary profession is heavily reliant on overseas graduates. RCVS said, “up to 60% of vets registering in recent years graduated overseas.” In “The UK’s new immigration policy and the food supply chain” inquiry, the Committee heard that 95% of official veterinarians who work in slaughterhouses qualified in the European Economic Area.
119.There are conflicting views and evidence on whether there are enough OVs. In a paper by Defra to RCVS, considered at its 18 March 2021 Council Meeting, Defra warned that it “currently anticipate[s] a severe shortage of OV capacity in abattoirs in England and Wales over the next 6–12 months”. On this basis Defra asked the RCVS Council to amend its temporary register rules for 12 months to allow temporary registrants to carry out official veterinarian work in slaughterhouses. However, a week later during our Seafood and Meat Export inquiry, on the 25 March, David Kennedy, Director General for Food, Farming, Animal and Plant Health at Defra, told us that there is “enough capacity within the system.”
120.On 20 April James Russell, President of the BVA said he was “concerned” when he heard Defra officials say “that there is no problem with veterinary capacity, particularly with the veterinary capacity that fills in behind those people who are signing export certificates.” The Ulster Farmers Union also warned the Committee about the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol, “Our chief vet says that 20% of Europe’s certificates may need to take place at these two crossings, from Belfast and Larne, and it is just crazy. There is no way that there are enough vets in place to do that certification work.”
121.On 18 May the Chief Veterinary Officer said, “it is fair to say that it is a fragile situation in terms of having the adequate resource to carry out all the checks necessary.”
122.There is disagreement between Defra, the veterinary sector, and the Chief Veterinary Officer about whether there are enough veterinarians to carry out the increase in certification work which is required following the transition period. Government should closely monitor veterinary capacity alongside projections of six-month demand and publish statistics on a quarterly basis.
227 Animal and Plant Health Agency, , April 2021
228 Animal & Plant Health Agency, , (accessed 28/07/2021)
229 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 
230 National Farmers Union 
231 National Farmers Union 
232 National Farmers Union 
233 [Professor Middlemiss]
234 [Professor Middlemiss]
235 National Farmers Union 
236 [James Russell]
237 [James Russell]
238 [James Russell]
239 [Ian Hewitt]
240 [Professor Middlemiss]
241 [Ian Hewitt]
242 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, , April 2021, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, , December 2020
243 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons 
244 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons , RSPCA 
245 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons 
246  Evidence taken as part of the Labour in the Food Supply Chain, HC 231, 15 September 2020
247 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, , March 2021
248  Evidence taken as part of the Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU, HC 1189, 25 March 2021
249  James Russell
250  Victor Chestnutt
251  Professor Middlemiss