Moving animals across borders Contents


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.”227 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.

Monitoring animal disease

112.The Animal and Plant Health Agency is responsible for plant and animal disease surveillance in England, Scotland and Wales.228 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.”229

113.The European Union’s disease monitoring system is called the Animal Disease Notification System (ADNS).230 ADNS is no longer available to the UK as continued access was not negotiated as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.231 While ADNS is an EU system, there is already a precedent for countries outside of the EU having access in Switzerland, Norway and Turkey.232 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.”233 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.”234

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.”235 They explained that “Since 1st January [2021], 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.”236 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.”237 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.”238

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.”239 This view was shared by the Chief Vet.240 APHA said “We have alternative solutions in place and under development.”241

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 .

Veterinary capacity

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.242 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 2018.243

118.As suggested by RCVS and RSPCA, this shortfall could be exacerbated by the lack of mutual recognition of veterinary qualifications within the TCA.244 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.”245 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.246

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”.247 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.”248

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.”249 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.”250

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.”251

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.

228 Animal & Plant Health Agency, About us, (accessed 28/07/2021)

229 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [MAAB0054]

230 National Farmers Union [MAAB0057]

231 National Farmers Union [MAAB0057]

232 National Farmers Union [MAAB0057]

233 Q173 [Professor Middlemiss]

234 Q173 [Professor Middlemiss]

235 National Farmers Union [MAAB0057]

236 Q25 [James Russell]

237 Q13 [James Russell]

238 Q13 [James Russell]

239 Q171 [Ian Hewitt]

240 Q171 [Professor Middlemiss]

241 Q171 [Ian Hewitt]

242 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Eighth Report: Seafood and meat exports to the EU, April 2021, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report - The UK’s new immigration policy and the food supply chain, December 2020

243 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [MAAB0009]

244 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [MAAB0009], RSPCA [MAAB0010]

245 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [MAAB0009]

246 [Q51] Evidence taken as part of the Labour in the Food Supply Chain, HC 231, 15 September 2020

247 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Council Meeting: Thursday, 18 March 2021, March 2021

248 [Q180] Evidence taken as part of the Seafood and Meat Exports to the EU, HC 1189, 25 March 2021

249 [Q5] James Russell

250 [Q6] Victor Chestnutt

251 [182] Professor Middlemiss

Published: 30 September 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement