Review of NOAH’s year by Dawn Howard

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During 2017, Brexit has straddled every NOAH activity – indeed we estimate that well over 40% of NOAH’s resource this year has been spent on Brexit-related activity.

With Article 50 triggered in March, the shape of how the UK will leave the EU is only now starting to become a little clearer, with the December ‘divorce settlement’ announcement, but many questions remain. During the year, fact-finding and information-exchanging has been core. This has been two-way – keeping our membership well informed on the constantly changing political agenda, and spreading the word wider about what is needed to allow the animal health sector to continue making its important contribution to UK’s economy, food security and society – and to grow. Equally, so we can find out exactly what is needed and where opportunities and potential pitfalls lie, we need views and feedback from our members and others in our sector. NOAH was pleased to welcome 2 new members during the year: Krka UK Ltd and Cyton Biosciences.

Critical to NOAH’s understanding and communications is our Brexit Barometer series of reports – with the first edition published in the summer and the second imminent. This shows opinions of members and stakeholders through 6 different areas relating to animal health with varying degrees of optimism, but overall uncertainty about the future of the animal medicines industry. The report will be repeated again in 2018 to track shifting sentiment, as the Brexit process unfolds

The information for the first report workshop came from a NOAH Brexit Workshop in May while delegates at NOAH’s major Brexit conference in November shared the views that will form the basis of our latest report.

Standing behind that is more analysis: NOAH’s committees have been undertaking detailed work such as looking at ‘Day zero’ and identifying what needs to be in place to ensure business and trade can operate as smoothly as possible when the UK exits. We need to make sure there are not problems accessing veterinary medicines for UK vets, SQPs and animal owners.

We have been working with others with participation in structured groupings such as the Agri-Brexit Coalition and the Life Sciences Group along with our colleagues in the human health sector, and have met many others throughout the year to exchange views and lobby government.

Business needs certainty to be able to plan. We have welcomed what’s being done, but need more clarity – animal medicine companies are making decisions right now about their businesses in the UK. To explain this, we have had a number of political meetings too, including DEFRA Minister Lord Gardiner speaking at the NOAH Dinner in November and Shadow Minister Sue Hayman at our Brexit Conference, but we are also widening the net beyond our ‘usual’ DEFRA contacts to explore any opportunities offered by the Government’s new Industrial Strategy and to meet politicians from different areas, for example Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake. The need to keep pace with the many changes in the political landscape this year was brought into sharp focus by the unexpected snap election in May, for which NOAH produced its manifesto for animal health.

In parallel with our Brexit work, we continue with our other major activities. The regulation of animal medicines remains key: in particular, the review of the EU legislation for veterinary medicines and medicated feed. Despite Brexit, this new legislation will still impact on us in the UK, and needs to be right – the original concept was to encourage innovation and medicines availability, while cutting back on unnecessary red tape, so presents opportunities for our sector.

With our working relationship with our newly renamed European association Animalhealth Europe cemented, NOAH continues to play an active role, informing key officials and European politicians as the draft legislation goes through the consultation phases. As it approaches ‘trilogue’, tripartite meetings attended by representatives of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, negotiations enter their final phase and it’s vital that the wording on things like, for example that the definition of who can prescribe remains compatible with our UK system of prescribing and distribution.

With the European Medicines Agency confirmed to be moving to Amsterdam, we need to ensure continuity of availability of animal medicines during the move, and into the future. NOAH welcomed the UK’s stated commitment to continuing a close working relationship with the EU in relation to the EMA.

Activity to reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance remains vital. NOAH has maintained a good relationship with stakeholders, with a food chain workshop being held in July and NOAH has actively supported RUMA, who held a ground breaking conference in October, where the VMD’s Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS) report for 2016 was launched. This showed significant reductions in antimicrobial use, demonstrating that UK vets and farmers are making every effort to prescribe and use antibiotics responsibly.

At its Conference, RUMA also announced new species-specific farm antibiotic targets, as a result of the work of the RUMA Targets Task Force (TTF), of which NOAH is a member.  These will further reduce, refine or replace antibiotic use across eight different livestock sectors. The TTF will continue to promote and support responsible use in the coming years, whilst at the same time ensuring animal health and welfare is maintained.

With this work ongoing, NOAH is keen to ensure animal health and welfare are not compromised by working to promote measures to prevent disease, including encouraging uptake of vaccinations and other alternatives where they are available. We have stated that to complement responsible use efforts our sector is committed to investing in the development of alternative products to prevent disease.

NOAH also became a signatory to the HealthforAnimals Global Animal Health Sector Commitment and Actions on Antibiotic Use, showing how the whole animal medicines sector is working collectively on a global level, echoing and complementing our UK activities.

In 2016, we supported Bella Moss Foundation in the production of a short animated video, #BeattheBugs, which encourages the responsible use of antibiotics prescribed for both animals and people. Now we have teamed up to produce a short survey to assess the depth of pet owners’ knowledge on the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and are asking for support of our members and the veterinary and pet health industry to spread the word and ask clients and customers to complete it.

As an industry, we are all about helping owners keep their animals healthy. With animal welfare very much on the political agenda, it is important that the role of good health in good welfare is highlighted. To this end NOAH has launched its ‘Industry in Focus’ photographic campaign showcasing images and stories that have been collected to illustrate what animal health looks like today from a range of perspectives including industry, stakeholders, the political community and the pet-owning public. Launched at London Vet Show in November, NOAH will be building on this throughout next year across our social media channels and invite participation.

In parallel, some of the owners that contributed to our ‘Happy Healthy Pets’ photograph gallery on our pet-owner focussed Pet Health Information website are contributing blogs on various aspects of what they do to help keep their pet healthy – through our @IheartmypetUK social media streams we aim to raise awareness of ‘what pet health looks like’. NOAH remains a trustee of National Pet Month, which had a very successful year, particularly in terms of social media activity.

In June we held our first Members’ Day at London Zoo. It gave representatives from member companies, some not in regular contact with NOAH through committee work, a chance to hear and meet newly elected Chair Gaynor Hillier, and to be involved in addressing NOAH’s priorities for the year. It was also an opportunity to announce the top students from NOAH’s qualification scheme for company staff, the NOAH Certificate of Animal Health (NCAH).

Our flagship publication, the NOAH Compendium of Data Sheets, has been ‘put to bed’ and the book is due for issue early in the New Year. This will continue to be sent free of charge to each veterinary practice premises. The special AMTRA-commissioned SQP edition is also in the final stages of production. But it is the free access, online edition that remains the most up-to-date source, and over the year the new website has been further refined with improvements introduced to meet user needs.

So, a very busy year. And what next? Next year Brexit will again be to the fore and NOAH will be the leading voice for the animal health sector – making sure our members views are heard by policymakers both in Westminster and Brussels. But as things start to become clearer, there will be opportunities and it will be vital that the whole industry remains united in supporting high standards of animal welfare post-Brexit, with health an integral part of that.