The Federation of Veterinarians in Europe held its General Assembly in mid-June this year. This is, first and foremost, a meeting of vets from 38 countries across Europe to discuss shared concerns and solutions. Participation from Ireland was primarily by vets from private practice and from government sectors.
Among those representing the UK was Professor Stuart Reid (pictured right) chair of The Donkey Sanctuary Board of Trustees. These meetings are of course a great opportunity for networking and advocacy as The Donkey Sanctuary spreads its message and increases its global influence. Key international organisations such as the World Veterinary Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association were represented by their respective presidents who were interested to learn more from us about ‘ejiao’ (donkey skin extract) and the horrid consequences of the global trade in donkey skins.
The meeting wasn’t so much about providing up-to-date veterinary education for vets - on how to diagnose or treat disease - but rather about addressing the broader problems facing all who keep, breed and treat animals.
Of particular interest to those, like us, involved in animal welfare in the field were topics such as whether people who have themselves been abused might be more likely to mistreat animals too. My own experience with animal welfare is to say that when people neglect animals’ needs (such as for proper food or shelter) I often find that they have long neglected their own needs also. According to one of the speakers at the event: "When animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk". Uncomfortable and sobering thoughts indeed.
The issue of most relevance perhaps to us treating equines, eg for painful conditions such as laminitis with anti-inflammatory medicines (‘bute’), is an agreement by the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) to make new proposals to the EU Commission about medicines for horses. These proposals are aimed at improving the availability of important drugs and about our freedom to use certain specialised, but not licensed-for-equines, medicines.
These include eye drops designed for humans whose use in horses currently means permanently excluding them from the food chain. The horse (and donkey) is in EU law a food-producing species from birth and remains so unless someone declares otherwise on the passport. Some owners currently make this declaration before the animal has ever received any drugs, of any kind, sometimes simply because the medicines rules are so complex. Other owners, we believe, treat their horses with all kinds of medicines without making any record of treatments that might lead to drug residues in the food chain - and this is not a good thing either.
People can of course choose not to eat meat products of all or any particular kind but if they do the meat should be safe and free from drug residues. The FVE support for these proposals does not mean there will be any change in the law, just that the European vets generally support a change.
The Donkey Sanctuary, through Eurogroup for Animals, has been exploring the potential impact of Brexit on animal health and welfare for more than a year already. As the UK general election was being held at the time of the FVE meeting in Tallinn there was much talk of Brexit and what this means for vets, for people generally and for animals in particular, particularly in Ireland and the UK. ‘Hard’ versus ’soft’ and the border here in Ireland between North and South came in for much discussion around the table. There were few definitive answers at Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE), only more and more questions!