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International Member Spotlight: Jim Ross MRCVS

Dr Jim Ross MRCVS - Senior Veterinary Officer at The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA)

In this month’s International Spotlight interview, Dr Jim Ross MRCVS tells us about his life and work as a Senior Veterinary Officer for the EFTA Surveillance Authority in Brussels, carrying out systems audits across Iceland and Norway.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and organisation?

Jim Ross MRCVSMy official title is Senior Veterinary Officer working for the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority in Brussels, Belgium which is known as ESA.

As a Senior Veterinary Officer, I have an auditing role within the organisation. There are around 70 people employed by ESA, but only six of us are involved in the veterinary field.

ESA works to monitor compliance with European Economic Area (EEA) rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (which are EEA member states but not in the EU), enabling them to participate in the EEA Internal Market. The EEA (European Economic Area) Agreement links the EU member states and the three EFTA states into an internal market governed by the same basic rules. These rules aim to enable free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital within the European single market.

In my role, I am specifically responsible for auditing compliance with EEA rules in Norway and Iceland, making sure that they are implementing and abiding by the relevant legislation. We carry out audits on a wide range of topics across animal health, animal welfare and public health.

Can you give us an overview of the types of work/procedures your workplace does?

In our veterinary unit we are principally auditors – we have an annual work programme listing which audits we are going to carry out. There is a lot of preparatory work involved pre-audit - this includes sending the auditee a pre-audit questionnaire and arranging itineraries for once we are in the country, deciding where we need to go and what type of establishments we must visit, for example, farms, slaughterhouses, and laboratories.

There is a lot of travel involved as, even though my office is based in Brussels, in our team we carry out around four to six audits a year – generally three or four in Norway and a couple in Iceland. Each audit takes about 10 days to complete on the spot.

After completing an audit, we then have to write up a report which may or may not include recommendations. Recommendations are put in place if there is a weakness in the application of the legislation and highlights areas where the country must make improvements. We will then follow up with them after a period of time to check if our recommendations have been addressed. All audit reports are publicly available on our website (ESA Audit Reports).

Within my team, we have very varied roles as we cover a wide range of areas. This year, we are carrying out audits on meat production, animal welfare during transport, and import controls. Previous topics have included aquaculture, official controls on residues and contaminants in live animals and animal by-products.

In addition to audits, we also carry out regular case handling. This means we sometimes carry out desk-based analysis on a topic to see if we then need to go and do an audit. We also provide scientific support to the legal officers in the unit, so my role is very much a mix of desk based and being in the field (you can guess which part I prefer!).

As there are so few of us and the audits are so varied, we can’t claim to automatically be experts on everything, so we often go on courses and training and are regularly in touch with commission services who carry out the same job as us. We will join them on some of their audits and they will join us on some of ours, so we are constantly learning from each other. I never have any problems fulfilling my CPD requirements!

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I feel very privileged in my job. I love to be able to travel and we regularly visit Iceland and Norway. Once we’ve decided which audits we need to carry out, we develop an itinerary which best meets the objectives of the audit. It’s up to the lead auditor to determine which regions we visit and which specific establishments we visit in order to best assess the competent authority’s performance.

Once we did an aquaculture audit in Norway and Iceland and we spent a lot of time out in the fjords visiting the rearing cages – I remember thinking how extremely lucky I was to be able to do that as part of my job.

"Once we did an aquaculture audit in Norway and Iceland and we spent a lot of time out in the fjords visiting the rearing cages – I remember thinking how extremely lucky I was to be able to do that as part of my job."

I would definitely recommend my role to anyone, but with Brexit it has become much more difficult to work within the EU. You have to have a European nationality but if any of my MRCVS colleagues are fortunate enough to have that, I would definitely encourage them to think about this type of work.

Did you always want to be a vet?

Having worked on farms, I knew from the age of about 15 or 16 that I wanted to be a vet, but I never imagined I would end up in the role I’m currently in. I didn’t know that jobs like this existed within the veterinary sector, even after I qualified. When I first qualified, I was in practice – principally large animal – for around seven-to-eight years. I then found myself working as an official veterinarian in a slaughterhouse in Northern Ireland, before working for the UK government as part of the Food Standards Agency. I then moved into working for the European Commission as an auditor in animal health prior to my current role for ESA.

Can you tell us how veterinary regulation differs in the country you work in, to the UK’s regulation?

If you think of the EU, it has its legislation for its member states. The EEA Agreement then serves as the link between EU legislation and the legislation that’s applied to the EFTA member states – so in Iceland, Norway and Lichenstein. Once an EEA-relevant law is adopted by the EU, a procedure is then launched to incorporate it into the EEA Agreement. The law is then assessed and, based on this expert assessment, the EFTA Secretariat then drafts a decision of the EEA Joint Committee to incorporate the law into the Agreement. There may be slight changes to the legislation in order to fit the EEA Agreement which can be a complex process. Once the EFTA Secretariat and EFTA states have agreed on the content, it is then sent to the EU Commission’s Secretariat-General who then consults other services of the EU Commission on the agreed wording to come up with the final text. The EEA Joint Committee adopts the Decisions to incorporate EU acts into the EEA Agreement. EU legislation only applies in the EFTA member states if it has been adopted into the EEA Agreement. Once the legislation is part of the EEA Agreement, my unit ensures that it is made part of the national legislation in Iceland and Norway and audits can then be carried out to make sure that the EFTA member states are adhering to it.

In summary, it is only when EU regulation is incorporated in the EEA agreement that it becomes applicable in the EEA member state. (You did ask!)

How does your role help to enhance animal health and welfare?

Everything we do is based around animal health, animal welfare and public health. By carrying out audits we are enhancing animal health and welfare and public health as it is all about ensuring that the correct standards are being maintained whether that be in the transportation of animals, in meat production, egg production, or in aquacultures. It is very intense work but is very rewarding.

Do you enjoy life in Brussels? And what do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I really like Brussels and think it’s a very underrated city. There’s so much to do and it’s beautiful with lots of open green spaces. It’s very bike friendly and I enjoy cycling into the office. I try and keep semi-fit, so I do the odd bit of running and swimming as well.

I love travelling which is lucky as I do this frequently both within and outside of work. Home is Northern Ireland which is where my family is based, so I regularly “commute” between there and Brussels.

I also enjoy riding my motorbike and go on trips around Europe when time allows.

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Published on 26 February 2024