VLA and GVS/AGV National Conference 2010

UK - The Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) hosted a successful joint national veterinary conference with Government Veterinary Surgeons (GVS) and the Association of Government Veterinarians (AGV) at the end of September.
calendar icon 8 October 2010
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The three-day conference at the University of Warwick brought together government veterinarians and scientists, as well as public health and food safety experts, to discuss current veterinary issues and their impact on human health.

Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Officer, and Rosemary Radcliffe, Chair of the England Advisory Group on Responsibility and Cost Sharing, were notable attendees among the 300 delegates from Defra, other government agencies, academia and the commercial sector.

The theme of the meeting was New Horizons – Working Together and this forward-looking, integrated idea was reflected throughout the conference programme. Speakers from both veterinary and public health organisations discussed a wide range of topics in sessions co-organised with other leading bodies including British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Technology Strategy Board, the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency to ensure a balanced, multi-disciplinary outlook.

VLA’s chief executive, Pete Borriello, opened the conference by reinforcing this theme, saying: “There is anxiety about the changes going on and the workshops show how we can work together.”

Looking forward

The conference’s plenary session Working Together on Animal Health and Welfare – A Glimpse into the Future addressed the future for government veterinary science and Nigel Gibbens discussed the merger of VLA with Animal Health.

He talked about the role of the two agencies and said: “There are many examples of how Animal Health and VLA already work together and both organisations are well respected. We want to keep the best of both and Defra will join with you to make it happen.”

Rosemary Radcliffe also explained the objectives of the responsibility and cost sharing advisory group, which are to reduce the risk and cost of animal disease and improve welfare of kept animals, to rebuild and maintain trust between animal keepers and Defra and to improve the effectiveness and value for money of policy and delivery. The group are due to report at the end of the year and Rosemary described the progress to date before opening up the debate to suggestions and comments from the audience.

Detailed coverage of Rosemary’s talk can be found in Veterinary Times (4 October 2010, 40 (39): pp1-2).


Acknowledging the link between animal and human diseases, the food chain and ‘farm-to-fork’ concept were central threads throughout the conference.

A session dedicated to antimicrobial resistance, organised with the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (BSAC), discussed this significant issue in both animals and humans. Leading experts from universities, VLA and the Health Protection Agency presented data about increasing antimicrobial resistance in Escherichia coli and Salmonella as well as other pathogens, and discussed the emergence of multi-drug resistant bacteria.

Laura Piddock, president of BSAC, encapsulated the problem by saying: “No new antimicrobials are being developed, either for animals or humans. We need to re-educate the public about the benefits of antimicrobials and what needs to be done for their continual use.”

This session was complemented by a workshop hosted by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which also addressed the use of antimicrobials and the development of antimicrobial resistance in veterinary medicine.

Food-borne zoonoses were also discussed in a session co-organised with the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Campylobacter and Salmonella were major topics during the session, which featured presentations from veterinary, food and health experts to reflect the relationship between these three disciplines in this field.

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and is present in 65 per cent of tested chickens. Javier Dominguez, from FSA, discussed the UK Food-borne Disease Strategy 2010-15 and said that “the key priority is the reduction of campylobacter in chickens.”

Vets in a changing world

GVS and AGV-organised workshops focused on training and education for veterinary surgeons. These sessions also considered how the veterinary profession can improve and better support livestock health and welfare by using current and developing systems and technologies to manage herd health.

There were also sessions on scanning surveillance, where new and emerging animal diseases are monitored, covering current threats and possible emerging problems, such as bovine neonatal pancytopaenia (bleeding calf syndrome) and diseases of camelids. The meeting also considered how scanning surveillance can be more cost-effective by using risk-based approaches, better data analysis and other novel technologies to better detect new diseases.

Using new technologies for diagnosis and research

The use of new technologies for data analysis and mathematical modelling was also discussed in dedicated workshops.

A session on mathematical modelling of cellular and molecular biology examined how the use of computers and new quantitative techniques can make better use of current data sets, such as generating models to better understand immune responses to parasites and tuberculosis.

The use of emerging technologies in veterinary diagnostics, especially with regard to pen-side testing and secure transmission of data, was also discussed in a session organised by the Technology Strategy Board.

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