The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is warning of a potential logjam for exporters of animal-origin products to the EU due to a shortage of vets to authorise customs documentation.
Since the end of the transition period at the end of 2020, firms sending meat, eggs, dairy and other animal-based goods to Europe must get a vet to sign an export health certificate to show that their goods meet EU sanitary standards.
However, new data from the BVA shows that the number of EU-registered vets coming to work in the UK fell by 68% from 1,132 in 2019 to just 364 in 2021.
The UK’s veterinary workforce is highly reliant on EU registrants, with data from 2021 indicating that 29% of the total existing workforce graduated in the EU.
The BVA attributes the recent fall to both the pandemic and the end of free movement between Britain and the EU following Brexit.
Surge in certificate applications
The BVA adds that the requirement for firms exporting goods to get export health certificates has also led to a surge in demand for vets.
Its data shows a 12-fold increase in applications for veterinary certification, from 22,990 in 2029 to 228,558 by the end of 2021.
James Russell, BVA senior VP said: “The nosedive in EU registrants since Brexit coupled with soaring demand for veterinary certification is creating a storm of shortages in the profession.”
He added: “Vets are working incredibly hard but it’s an uphill struggle to comfortably cover all the work currently required."
According to the FT, these new documentation requirements are costing the industry an additional £60m a year.
It also reports that the ‘The SPS Certification Working Group’ is now asking the government to seek a formal agreement with Brussels on sanitary and phytosanitary measures to reduce the number of checks and documentation requirements.
‘Lack of understanding’
The shortages come on the back of criticism this week from Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union.
At the NFU Conference, reported in the Guardian, Batters said the government had a “total lack of understanding of how food production works.”
She said the government was implementing “completely contradictory policies” that risk “repeatedly running into crises.”
Monitoring the situation
The government claims it has been closely monitoring the veterinary issue and has introduced a number of measures, including:
- modifying language testing requirements
- introducing a new certification support officer role to work under the direction of Official Veterinarians
- opening up new vet schools and course places to boost homegrown supply