In a complex story about the potential gridlock of a no-deal Brexit, the following claim is made:

[T]he UK could try to move past the immediate chaos of no-deal, pull itself together, and level-up capacity so it could get the certification system demanded by the EU up and running. But here it runs into another problem, which feels disturbingly like the twist at the end of a morality tale: there aren’t enough vets, because they're all from the EU.

British vets like setting up small clinics in a village somewhere and saving the family dog. Admit it. That's the image in your head when someone says the word 'vet'. They do not envision spending their career watching cow carcasses being washed down in an abattoir. The culture of veterinary checks in food is much more common in Europe, especially in Spain. EU citizens consequently make up 95% of the veterinary workforce in UK food production.

If Britain is going to suddenly have to do all these checks to export food to the EU, it will require a massive increase in these types of vets. But at the moment we can't even keep the ones we've got. European workers are leaving, sick of the lack of security about their status and a national conversation which only ever treats them as a problem. We lose about 20 EU vets a month from the sector.

Without a deal on Brexit, it becomes hard to fill that gap, because new EU workers would find it harder to come to the UK. This hinges on something called 'mutual recognition of professional qualifications'. If there's a deal, the qualification you have in Europe entitles you to work in the UK and vice versa. If there isn't, all that falls down.

[a source of this info is given at the end]: This piece is based on conversations with… Jason Aldiss, managing director of Eville & Jones, a leading provider of official veterinary controls, and former president of the Veterinary Public Health Association.

I'm mostly interested in checking the first claim: the proportion of non-British EU vets in the food sector. But if the 2nd claim (rate of departure of this personnel) can be checked as well (it might be in the same source), that would be nice too.


1 Answer 1


It is true that the vast majority of vets working in abbatoirs are non-UK graduates, and mostly from elsewhere in the EU. The exact number probably isn't known, but official estimates are consistent with the 95% figure, though that likely also includes vets from outside the EU.

A May 2017 report "Brexit and the veterinary profession" [pdf] from the British Veterinary Association states

In the meat hygiene sector alone, some estimates suggest 95% of Official Veterinarians (OVs) working in abattoirs graduated overseas with the vast majority of these being non-UK EU graduates [page 12]


The vast majority of OVs supervising slaughterhouses in the UK come from other EU Member States. In part, this is because veterinary schools in other EU countries place a greater emphasis on public health critical work through the veterinary degree and on the role of the OV, requiring them to supervise all food premises where the food is of animal origin. Students at UK veterinary schools do not demonstrate the same level of interest in meat hygiene work, with only 6% of students expressing an interest in “government work” (Vet Futures, 2015). Within the workforce, the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA) estimates that only 4% of OVs are UK or Commonwealth graduates [page 24]

A more recent (July 2018) "Key facts" document from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons states

Although it is too early to say with confidence, our data suggests new EU registrations are already levelling off, whereas in previous years they have been rising. This could seriously impact the meat production sector as we know that approximately 90% of vets working in public health are non-UK EU graduates. [page 3]

The same document states that of the vets that responded to their survey 18% are "actively looking for work outside the UK" and 40% are "more likely to leave" following the Brexit vote, but I cannot see any figures for how many are leaving already.

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