A POTENTIALLY devastating gap in both non-UK large animal practitioners and Official Veterinarians (OVs) could be averted following the Migratory Advisory Committee recommendation that vets should be added to the Shortage Occupation List.

At the Farmers’ Union of Wales we have consistently expressed concerns that the agricultural industry, and the food supply chain as a whole, is facing a potential skills gap.

We are highly dependent on non-UK EU vets, with more than 90 per cent of roles undertaken in UK abattoirs, such as import and export certification and food safety checks, undertaken by non-UK vets from within the EU. The moves to ensure that this provision is maintained after Brexit are welcomed.

Welsh farmers work with their farm vet to maintain and protect high standards of animal health and welfare, and as we prepare to leave the EU, we have to ensure we can fill those roles which protect our status as producers of high quality, safe food.

We welcome the recommendation of the Migratory Advisory Committee to overturn the 2011 removal of vets from the Shortage Occupation List, especially as it is expected that the requirement for OVs within the food supply chain could increase substantially as the number of trade certificates and post-Brexit trade requirements increase.

We are now urging the Home Office to accept the recommendation of this Committee to ensure that the needs of Welsh producers, and the wider supply chain, can be met in the future.

The FUW has also met with the Home Office to highlight the need for a realistic approach to the need for workers who are essential to the food supply chain - within some sectors 70 per cent or more of workers are of foreign nationality.

We appreciate that the Home Office is currently engaged in a form of consultation with interested parties across the country, but proposals as they currently stand are a source of great concern, given what appears to be a very high threshold for what the UK Government would define as ‘skilled workers’ who would be allowed to work in the UK.

For example, it’s proposed that the income threshold for being defined as a skilled worker would be £30,000, which is well above the average salary in large areas of Wales, and far higher than the salary for a range of Welsh jobs we would regard as highly skilled.

This includes many of the jobs undertaken on Welsh farms and in the food supply chain, meaning that proposals as they currently stand would have significant negative impacts for Welsh food producers and processors and the supply chain as a whole.