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Disease outbreak concern after surveillance shake-up

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 09, 2013

By Toby Meyjes, WMN Senior Reporter, Twitter: @TobyMeyjesWMN

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George Eustice

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Concern has been raised about the Westcountry's ability to handle an animal disease outbreak after a shake-up of the Government's disease surveillance system was announced.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) revealed, what it called, an "improved" approach to surveillance for animal disease threats earlier this week.

The changes, backed by Cornish farming minister, George Eustice, mean post-mortem examinations will end at eight AHVLA sites, including one in Truro.

However, Prospect, the union which represents 2,000 specialist staff at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has called the introduction of the new system premature. National secretary Geraldine O'Connell said: "We raised a number of concerns and challenged a number of assumptions with the agency, primarily because the strategy, which has not yet been tried and tested, relies on external providers agreeing to undertake a much more significant role in post-mortems and surveillance.

"The decision is also linked to the requirement for AHVLA to save money from its surveillance budget. Prospect supports the use of private veterinarians to supplement information obtained from post-mortem activities on farm animals for monitoring the potential spread of disease.

"This already takes place. However, we must have an appropriate method of data capture for how all of this information is recorded in order to successfully monitor the potential spread of disease."

The AHVLA changes will see post-mortem examinations (PMEs) end at Aberystwyth, Langford, Luddington, Newcastle, Preston, Sutton Bonington and Truro from April 2014 and Winchester from 2015.

Instead it will place a greater emphasis on gathering intelligence from other sources, such as private vets.

It will also still carry out surveillance from seven post-mortem investigation centres including Starcross in Devon.

Mr Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: "Detection of new diseases and improving our resilience to them is a key part of safeguarding animal health. It is a responsibility shared by the farming industry and Government, and I fully support this vision of partnership working, sharing skills and expertise to manage disease risk and support our livestock farming industry."

The AHVLA's director of veterinary surveillance, Rupert Hine, added: "The current surveillance system has a good history of detecting disease threats such as the first cases of Schmallenberg and bluetongue, but we know improvements can be made to give us better coverage across England and Wales. The new model will improve the effectiveness of surveillance by making better use of the expertise of private vets, universities and the livestock industry as well as retaining the existing AHVLA network."

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