Senior Ulster Unionist peer Lord Rogan has called for urgent action to address an increasingly serious shortage of vets carrying out official meat inspections in Northern Ireland.
Last week, the Province’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Robert Huey, told a Stormont committee that, when the supermarket grace period in the Northern Ireland Protocol expires, the number of argi-food certificates processed locally will be close to the figure handled by the EU as a whole.
Dr Huey advised the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee that these duties were currently being carried out by just 12 vets and “that’s not going to work.”
Lord Rogan spoke of his plan to table further Parliamentary Questions to seek to establish a clearer picture of what exactly is going on.
Lord Rogan said: “The disastrous Northern Ireland Protocol has clearly made the situation much worse, but the shortage of qualified vets to undertake certification responsibilities should have been dealt with long ago and certainly well before the end of the Brexit transition period.
“The UK Government and Food Standards Agency must get a grip on this situation and do so urgently.
“We need more vets and they must be fully-qualified, trainees will not do.
“It is yet another instance of the UK Government taking its eye off the ball on Northern Ireland in general and Brexit in particular. I commend Dr Huey for bringing this matter to wider public attention, but it should never have come to this.”
Lord Rogan has also received an answer to a Parliamentary Question in which the UK Government admitted that contingency plans had been put in place in the event that the current contract to deliver official veterinary controls in Northern Ireland was not delivered.
The answer given by Lord Bethell said that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has taken forward a recruit-to-train project, recruiting staff as trainee meat inspectors.
“The agency contract is to secure agency workers to maintain continued delivery of official controls until such time as these trainees become fully qualified,” Lord Bethell responded.
“DAERA have established a group of vets and ex-meat inspectors in the Department who can be called upon to carry out meat inspection duties as a contingency in the event that the current contract is unable to deliver.