Lab cuts pose risks to animals, MPs warned

Animal health and veterinary lab cuts pose risks to animals, MPs warned

Time will be lost and animal welfare could be compromised if livestock samples have to be sent to England for testing and analysis, Prospect warned the Commons Welsh affairs committee in November.

MPs are probing the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency decision to close laboratory facilities at eight of the UK's 14 regional veterinary centres, because of cuts of £8m a year .

Both of the two Welsh labs – at Aberystwyth and Carmarthen – are to be axed by April 2013, together with 14 specialist posts.

Prospect national secretary Geraldine O'Connell provided written and oral evidence to the committee, which asked if the decision had taken into account the high density of livestock in west Wales.

It also wanted to know what effect de-coupling testing and post-mortem services would have on the diagnosis of early disease; and the impact on relationships between private vets, laboratories and the agricultural community.

O'Connell said early diagnosis of serious infections and transmittable diseases was crucial. Sending samples away for analysis could lose vital time.

Welsh farms account for 11 per cent of cattle in the UK, and 26 per cent of sheep. When farmers discover a problem they contact their local vet, who may contact the AVHLA for advice. If samples are needed, the vet either posts or hand delivers them to AVHLA's regional lab.

But under the new proposals:

  • lab work would be sent to England, making same-day diagnosis no longer possible
  • this could lead to fewer samples being submitted – or samples being sent to private labs instead – causing the loss of important disease surveillance information.
  • samples would be at greater risk of degrading in transit to the testing lab.

Prospect members have warned that delays will compromise animal welfare, AHVLA's scientific reputation and increase the prevalence of diseases.

O'Connell also pointed to the dangers of losing vital expertise, as veterinary bacteriology was "not a readily transferable skill and requires specialist interpretation of tests usually designed for human bacteriology."