Just like people in the human medical profession, vets aren’t just simply ‘vets’. There’s a big variation in qualifications, experience, interests and specialities. One of these that you might see listed on a vets’ website is an ‘OV’. What is an OV? What do they do? Are they important for you as a pet owner?
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What is an OV?
An OV, or Official Veterinarian, is a vet certified to carry out work on behalf of the government; usually in relation to public health. All OVs are registered veterinary surgeons, but not all veterinary surgeons are OVs. To become an OV, vets must undergo extra qualifications called Official Control Qualifications (Veterinary) or OCQ(V). And then be authorised by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
What Do They Do?
OVs are far more important than most people realise!
One of the most critical roles for an OV is in food hygiene and animal welfare in relation to meat trade and slaughter. The UK has some of the most stringent food and animal safety in the world. And this is partly because of the use of OVs. There is an OV at every animal slaughterhouse. The OV assists inspection of the animals’ carcasses after slaughter. This ensures the meat is fit for human consumption, as well as identify welfare issues that the animal had, such as worms or injuries. Because each carcass is individually inspected, it is easy to prevent single unhealthy carcasses from entering the food chain.
It is critical that OVs inspect the animals and their products before and after slaughter to ensure that the products are safe for humans, and assure consumers that their meat is of a certain quality. Many diseases can be transmitted from animal products to humans. So OVs provide a critical role in reducing outbreaks of food-borne diseases. Critically, OVs are an important step in identifying notifiable diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, mad cow disease, certain tapeworms and more, which can have detrimental effects on human and animal health if not identified and stopped rapidly.
The OV will also ensure that each animal carcass is correctly labelled, processed correctly and all by-products disposed of safely. If there are any concerns with food safety at any point in the process, the OV can halt production until the concern is corrected.
When animals arrive at slaughterhouses they are inspected. If there are any issues, the OV is notified so changes can be enforced at the farm or with transportation. This protects animal welfare as well as the quality of the meat. The post-mortem inspection provides a second check for welfare concerns at the farm, even if they do not affect human health, such as ectoparasites.
At slaughterhouses, vets are also responsible for ‘emergency slaughter’, where if an animal is in some kind of distress or welfare is otherwise compromised, the vet can quickly euthanise the animal humanely to stop further suffering.
Animal Exportation and Importation
OVs also have a role outside of slaughterhouses. When an animal is transported outside of the UK (this is almost always by sea from ports, since we are an island), it must be done legally. This requires an OV to sign multiple documents known as Export Health Certificates (EHC). An EHC ensures that animals are all transported properly and safely, and they can be traced. This is, again, critical to identify and control instances of disease outbreak. If a disease erupts abroad in an animal originally from the UK, it can be traced with EHCs. It also minimises illegal movement of animals that could compromise welfare.
As another consequence of Brexit, since our exit from the EU OVs have another role, this time with companion animals. Previously, travelling to the EU with a pet required a pet passport, which was easy to apply for. Since Brexit, the UK has been labelled a ‘third’ country by the EU, so any pet entry to the EU requires an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) to be signed by an OV. This requires an OV to ensure your pet is microchipped, up to date with their standard vaccinations, has had a rabies vaccine or blood test, and is treated for tapeworms if they are a dog. An AHC can take several hours to sign properly, and is single-use only, unlike the previous pet passport. As such, it can cost a traveller £100 or more for each pet, every time they travel – pet passports cost around £60 and were valid for life.
In actuality, OVs have always been signing AHCs for pets travelling to destinations outside the EU, but since EU travel with pets is much more common, OVs are finding they are signing many more AHCs than before Brexit.
Are OVs Important for You?
OVs are incredibly important for every person, even if you have no pets and do not eat meat. Food-borne diseases are huge killers, and can easily spread from person to person without meat consumption. OVs help minimise this risk considerably, and work to quickly stop outbreaks when they do occur. One huge example of this was the mad cow disease outbreak in the 80s and 90s – mad cow disease is a prion (abnormal protein) disease that was spread via beef infected with brain or spinal cord tissue. This complex and slow disease caused gradual neurological signs and eventually death in cows and people. The outbreak led to millions of cattle being slaughtered.
Since then, new legislation has stopped any further spread – an OV assists with this by ensuring that brain and spinal cord tissue is safely removed at the slaughterhouse, preventing contamination of meat. So even if you don’t realise it, you are protected by OVs every day – this concept of protecting animal and human life together is termed One Health. OVs therefore provide an important bridge between normal vets and human medical professionals.
If you are looking at a vets’ website and a vet is listed as an OV, this may also be relevant for you if you plan to travel with your pets.
Travel is not legal without an AHC from an OV, so you must ensure you contact an OV well before travel. Because not every vet is an OV, you may even have to look for another practice with an OV if yours does not employ one. It is understandable to feel this is inconvenient, particularly if you used the much simpler pet passport scheme previously. But remember that AHCs are there to protect animal and human welfare, both in the UK and abroad. Both rabies and tapeworms can infect humans and cause terrible illness, so ensuring animals are protected protects human life too.
Finally, OVs working in small animal practices will still be on the lookout for diseases relevant to human health, such as rabies, Toxoplasma, parasites and more. So while looking for an OV at a local practice as a pet owner isn’t necessary, it can be useful in certain situations.
- Official Veterinarians (OVs)
- Life as an OV: protecting public health, safeguarding animal welfare | Vet Record Careers
- Improve OV
- The Official Veterinarian’s Role in Food Hygiene An Essential Public Good
- Essential Skills for Official Veterinarians > Overview
- BVA policy – Official veterinarians revalidation
- Official Veterinarians Export Instructions
- Taking your pet dog, cat or ferret abroad: Rabies vaccinations and boosters – GOV.UK
- United Kingdom BSE outbreak – Wikipedia