Harmonise veterinary laws  – VEMTAG urges gov’t

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The Ghana Veterinary Medical Technicians Association of Ghana (VEMTAG) has called for an immediate review and harmonisation of the Veterinary legislation for effective Veterinary governance in the country.

VEMTAG explained that with provisions of the Public Health Act most of the activities supposed to be carried out by the veterinary services are being done by other institutions: such as the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), Ghana Standards Authority, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Metropolitan Municipal District Assemblies and other agencies even within the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, despite not being fully equipped with the requisite resources to carry out such activities.

Speaking during a media interview with support from BUSAC, DANIDA and USAID in Accra, Mr. Emmanuel Eshun, President of VEMTAG said: “We are calling for a complete harmonisation wherein there is a legislation that benefits the businessman found within the veterinary domain (all activities that are directly or indirectly related to animals, their products and by-products which help to protect, maintain and improve the health and welfare of humans; including by means of protecting animal health and welfare and food safety) to have ease of business and avoid duplication,  which costs time and money and further breaks the public trust in veterinary services as a whole. For example, clearing animal products at the ports must clearly be a duty of the veterinary services – unlike the current situation whereby the FDA is usually at the ports attempting to do what the veterinary services should be doing”.

The Public Health Act, 2012, needs to be amended to enhance the effective delivery of public health in all aspects; including ensuring that veterinary services function properly, and the businesses that fall within the value chain flourish as well,” Mr. Eshun explained.

Fragmentation in Laws

“It has become very clear that there are fragmentations of our laws scattered in various legislations and institutions, and it is our wish that people are able to benefit from our services of wellbeing – which will only be achieved if we have a policy change that would regulate our laws without duplications in terms of licencing, certifications and other areas. The veterinary service is also not able to execute its mandate because present laws are outdated and must be amended,” he added.

Most importantly he said, businesses within the veterinary cycle must survive with clear-cut policies, regulations and legislation without segmentation.

Meat and honey production and related business activities, he said, should be handled by veterinary services to provide the requisite checks that would ensure smooth export of the products from the country.

“The Meat processing industry, which previously was handled by the veterinary services, has been lost due to the public health act giving some portions of the work to the FDA; whereas honey as an animal product is given to the standards authority for permits to be exported into the European market – only for the EU to write to the veterinary services insisting that they will dump everything if they do not see Veterinary certification. In the end, the businessman suffers,” he recalled.

Policy Guideline

“Policymakers must be aware that veterinary services are not able to do their work to the total benefit of the business community in the veterinary domain. So, there is a need for us to have harmonisation and a clear-cut policy guideline in terms of who should do what – even if it is amendment of the Public Health Act to reflect reality on the ground. Then the business community would benefit from what they are doing,” he stated.

“We spend about 150 to 200 million dollars a year on importing meat, including chicken, into the country; and we could save ourselves more than half of that amount if the industry is boosted in the country – following proper regulations that would allow the veterinary services to operate efficiently and manage poultry and meat production in Ghana,” he stated in an interview with the Ghanaian Times.

“Currently, there are no clear-cut rules and regulations guiding veterinary services in the country, making it difficult for us to work and ensure business growth to boost the economy. Due to the lapses in regulation, we are unable to generate the required revenue in meat export (including bush-meat and fish products) as most of the meat sent out of the country is rendered unwholesome – making dealers in the industry run at a huge loss,” he stressed.

An Executive Member of VEMTAG, Mr. William Boamah, added that public confidence in the institution is fading and there must be legislation to benefit businesses with regard to export, which would boost the economy at large.

Huge Losses Due to Importation

With the recent importation of unwholesome gizzards into the country, he said, the country will lose millions of Ghana cedis treating those infected after consuming the product – adding that the country would not import such products if the institutions responsible were working in clearly-defined roles.

“The loss is huge, because we are not managing veterinary services in the country. It is an essential service neglected to the detriment of business and Public health. Veterinary service is losing its important role in the national discourse due to entrenched positions, the lack of understanding emanating from non-existent stakeholder engagements, obsolete laws and the unseemly focus of regulators on revenue generation instead of consumer satisfaction. The advocacy would enlighten people and make them aware of what they are losing, and it would also improve businesses in the veterinary domain; we would churn out quality products for the wellbeing of Ghanaians and Public health would be improved as illegal slaughterhouses would be controlled,” he stated.

“The law governing the veterinary domain should be in one document. We are standing in for the state in terms of public health, food safety and international trade. A policy should bring veterinary services to the forefront for businesses and the wellbeing of Ghanaians. We are hoping that something is done to rectify the situation and bring sanity into the whole system for business to flourish,” he added.

The FDA for example, he said, could definitely play a role in the Veterinary domain; but not necessarily a lead role in an area where, obviously, the competent authority is the Veterinary Services.

Ghana, he said, could challenge Brazil in terms of honey export as well as be a hub for meat export like Kenya if institutions worked properly with the right regulations.

Background

The functions of Veterinary Services are carried out under the auspices of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, which implies that the minister responsible for Food and Agriculture is the one accountable for any activities within that sector. However, the Public Health Act – an Act supposed to cover all public health activities – places responsibility for Veterinary public health activities on the minister responsible for Health.

The Chief Veterinary Officer/Director of Veterinary Services cannot advise the Minister of Health on animal diseases and its related matters as stipulated in the Act, but rather the Minister of Food and Agriculture. Several provisions in the Public Health Act request directives from the Health Minister. An example is the declaration of non-communicable disease outbreaks within the animal sector – like diseases of economic importance that impact on food security and livelihood of farmers such as Africa Swine Fever, Pest de Petit Ruminant (PPR) and Rinderpest (now eradicated) whose call should be that of the Minister of Food and Agriculture, and its compensations as well.

The Public Health Act also interpret the ‘authorized health officer as a person authorised by the Minister of Health to perform a function stipulated in the Act, including veterinary functions.  Under section 9 of the Public Health Act, ‘Destruction of animal’ means, any person authorised by Minister of Health can destroy suspected animals and structures as agents of transmission for communicable disease other than Veterinary Officers; such provision is not in the best interests of farmers or the public. In addition, there is no representation of veterinary practitioners on the compensation board for any destruction.

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