EU veterinarian shortages to put animal health and welfare at risk


The health of farmed livestock is an important factor in the conflict between human health protection, animal protection, and farmers’ profitability.

Human health is heavily reliant on animal health, as healthy animals are both the farmer’s commercial capital and the pillars of animal welfare.

All health related conditions have an influence on animal performance and hence the financial status of the agricultural company stock-breeding them. Healthy cattle is and will continue to be the foundation of agricultural prosperity. In order to keep good levels of animal health, veterinary surgeons are increasingly being asked to give advice on husbandry and feeding issues in addition to expert medical knowledge.

However, these increasing veterinary demands meet an urgent problem: a veterinary surgeon shortage. Only around 3,500 of the approximately 22,000 veterinary surgeons now working in Germany (including about 12,000 practice owners and 10,000 employed doctors) are still active in the field of cattle care.

“Veterinary resources are becoming increasingly scarce, especially in rural areas, because there is a lack of young talent in curative care,”

commented Heiko Färber, Managing Director of the German Association of Practising Veterinary Surgeons.

The causes behind this vary. Aside from a need for proximity to an urban environment, the younger generation is particularly concerned about working circumstances. Increasing legal requirements and associated bureaucracy are also worsening the problem.

“All of this is a major dilemma, because not only the partially fruitless search for salaried veterinary surgeons is causing problems. The situation is additionally being exacerbated by the age structure in the practices, with succession plans that are no longer achievable. If this situation remains, it will very soon become impossible to guarantee nationwide veterinary care any longer.

“But if sick or injured animals can no longer be provided with adequate treatment due to a shortage of vets, that is clearly relevant to animal protection,” added Färber.

Lowering the framework criteria for skilled worker immigration, as recommended by the German Federal Government is considered to be insufficient to combat this risky trend for the animal welfare in Germany. Instead, the German Working Time Act must be quickly relaxed to allow for more flexible deployment of employed vets, a visible reduction in administrative procedures, as well as a maximization of the working time.

“In addition, animal health and therefore animal protection would be better served by using the scant resources available in livestock practices to intensify veterinary livestock health care,” Heiko Färber continued.

Since April 2021, mandatory veterinarian examinations of livestock have been included in the EU animal health legislation. Unfortunately, this requirement has not been translated into national legislation in any of the member states so far.

Regular livestock inspections are considered to be extremely beneficial to both animal welfare and consumer health protection. In addition, these services may be a proper tool for accelerating farmers’ activity, improve profitably, reduce medical care costs, as well as generate high-quality food sources.

Parallel to the frequently lengthy regulatory processes, technological advancements can assure adequate husbandry conditions for the specific species, hence enhancing animal protection. In Färber’s opinion, benefits for animals can be achieved much faster through innovation rather than regulations.

The livestock health care recommendations were established in 2008 by the German Association of Practising Veterinary Surgeons in partnership with the German Federal Government and the Federal States, and were revised in 2019.