Photo: Hampus Berndtson

DTU Vet in new constellation

Wednesday 14 Feb 18
by Tom Nervil


Rasmus Larsen
+45 45 25 10 10


Kristian Møller
Head of Department & Deputy Head of Department
+45 35 88 61 89

The Danish veterinary emergency response

The emergency response covers approximately 80 livestock diseases, some of which can be transmitted to humans. Livestock diseases may have serious consequences for animal welfare, industry, and exports.

These diseases are combated to improve animal welfare, to increase food safety in order to avoid the risk of human infections, to maintain food exports, and to improve the production economy of farmers. There is special focus on—among other diseases—foot and mouth disease, swine fever, avian influenza, and Newcastle disease in poultry. Livestock are monitored daily for disease symptoms, and the emphasis is on prevention.

DTU Vet’s framework agreement comprises scientific advice, scientific monitoring, supervision, databanks, and scientific emergency response.

Source: Danish Veterinary and Food Administration

DTU has found a form which ensures continuation of the excellent research, the academic and scientific competence, the educational activities, and the emergency response task up to 2020—with as few dismissals as possible under the given conditions.

When, in June 2016, the Danish Government decided in an allocation procedure to invite tenders for the emergency response task handled by DTU Vet since the merger in 2007, DTU chose—based on the given requirements—to submit a tender to continue to perform the task. So did a joint partnership between the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) and Statens Serum Institut (SSI).

Based on the material from the two tenderers, the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark announced on 26 June 2017 that UCPH/SSI had been awarded the contract for the veterinary emergency response task and would take over this task on expiry of the contract with DTU on 31 December 2019.

In this situation—with a large part of the department’s finances, academic activities, and scientific research being based on the veterinary emergency response—DTU had to ascertain that there was no longer a basis for an independent veterinary unit at DTU.

With due diligence

In September 2017, DTU therefore launched an intensive and extensive programme aimed at assessing the possibilities of ensuring the research activities, educational activities, infrastructure, staffing situation, diagnostic business, financial aspects, and continued public sector services until the end of 2019.

The programme has been monitored by DTU’s senior management and headed by Provost Rasmus Larsen. It has been of decisive importance to ensure that the reorganization of DTU Vet’s activities should have as limited negative research, educational, financial, and human consequences as possible.

Departments very accommodating

The Executive Board has wanted to ensure that the excellent and financially sustainable research activities can continue in other DTU departments and that the engineering programmes under DTU Vet are secured. Importance has also been attached to ensuring that the veterinary emergency response task is handled in a satisfactory manner while DTU remains responsible for this task. Finally, the Executive Board wanted to make it possible for the diagnostic business to continue on commercial terms in a synergy with the research activities and study programmes at DTU.

The brief, intensive programme has now been concluded, and most of the pieces have fallen into place.

“It’s been a big puzzle, but, fortunately, the DTU departments wanting to take over the excellent research groups from DTU Vet have been very accommodating,” says Rasmus Larsen.

New research groups will thus be established at five DTU departments: DTU Aqua, DTU Bioengineering, DTU Compute, DTU Food, and DTU Nanotech.

Continued emergency response

As DTU Vet is still the organizational unit responsible for the veterinary emergency response until the end of 2019, there are also research groups which are connected to this task. This applies to virologists and epidemiologists, most of whom will remain employed on an unchanged basis.

"It’s been a big puzzle, but, fortunately, the DTU departments wanting to take over the excellent research groups from DTU Vet have been very accommodating."
Provost Rasmus Larsen

“We’ve a framework agreement with the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, comprising scientific advice, monitoring, and emergency response in relation to livestock diseases in Denmark until 2020. We’ll do everything we can to continue to perform this agreement at the same high quality level as we’ve done so far,” says Kristian Møller, Head of Department.

The high academic competency of DTU Vet is underlined by the EU Commission recently having given the department the role of reference laboratory for monitoring of crustaceans.

The Head of Department further emphasizes that the customers—primarily veterinary surgeons—who have used DTU Vet’s expertise in the veterinary field can still contact the department without worrying.

“DTU will—in fact—continue its diagnostic service in the veterinary field in line with the development of new concepts for coordination and cooperation on diagnostics at DTU in a diagnostic centre with the same high academic competency that we have today,” says Kristian Møller.

Unfortunate staff cuts

However, the reorganization and adaptation of DTU Vet to a future without public sector services have also had human costs in addition to the financial costs. The management has thus assessed that staff cuts have been necessary. In this connection, the department’s employees have been offered the opportunity of entering into voluntary severance agreements, and 15 employees have accepted this offer.

On 30 January, another 11 employees received a consultation letter regarding planned notice of dismissal. The affected employees were also offered psychological counselling and information about consultancy assistance in finding a new job.

Educational activities will continue

Since 2007, DTU has set up three engineering programmes under DTU Vet. It has been highly important to maintain these study programmes out of consideration for the enrolled students and the sectors which have a demand for these engineers. In future, these study programmes will be rooted at other DTU departments. Also in this matter, most of the pieces have fallen into place. However, there are individual courses for which the future organizational setup is still outstanding. Moreover, all PhD students have been guaranteed that their PhD study programme will continue at DTU also after 31 December 2019.

All in all, the programme for DTU Vet’s adaptation—and consequently the immediate future for the department’s activities—is in place. The final pieces of the puzzle are expected to be slotted into place by the conclusion of the programme on June 30 2018. However—in the period until the end of the emergency response obligation at the end of 2019—there will be an ongoing dialogue with UCPH and SSI on assistance and transfer of analyses and employees.

Coming invitations to tender

The Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark has announced that the Ministry plans to invite tenders for all scientific advisory activities This concerns tasks which are currently handled by DTU Food and DTU Environment as well as tasks performed by Aarhus University and—for a small part—by University of Copenhagen.

“After the tendering of the veterinary emergency response task, we are left with a national knowledge drain in which experienced colleagues are leaving their work in this field to the great detriment of public authorities and industry. Economically, the situation is extremely unfortunate. DTU is left with expensive premises and research infrastructure which were to be used for public sector services; while UCPH and SSI must invest in new laboratories. Finally, there are the human consequences, where colleagues—who have invested their careers in this—are left without a future in this field, through no fault of their own,” says Rasmus Larsen.

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