A new EU regulation on the sale of veterinary medicine could mean that farmers will be required to get a prescription before purchasing the medication needed to treat their animals, a TD has warned.

Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, Michael Fitzmaurice, is urging the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to “take the necessary action” that will allow “responsible, trained people” in agricultural co-ops and stores to continue to sell veterinary medicines to farmers without requiring a prescription from a vet – as is the case at the moment.

In a statement, the deputy said: “If the department and the Government fail to act, the EU regulation will mean that farmers will be required to get a prescription before they can purchase veterinary medicine to treat their animals.

“If all vets start supplying these medicines on a larger scale than they are at present, it could lead to the closure of numerous veterinary-supply shops and agri stores no longer stocking these medicines.

It would put a needless obstacle in the way for farmers looking to treat their animals and could lead to vets having a monopoly in the market when it comes to supplying veterinary medicines.

The rural-based TD went on to outline that many farmers currently purchase “all of their veterinary medicine supplies” in a single place; adding that they have “a relationship built up” with their supplier.

“The people who run veterinary-supply stores, or who partake in a consultative sale with you in an agri-supply store, are trained when it comes to these medicines.

“They have taken part in a course and completed hours of study at home to hold the right to take part in a consultative sale with a farmer.

They are extremely knowledgeable and farmers who avail of their services value their advice as much as if it came from a vet.

“The relevant changes were made in the UK to ensure that responsible trained people could continue to authorise the sale of veterinary medicine to farmers; we should be able to do the same here,” the deputy concluded.

The latest EU regulation on veterinary medicines – which sets out rules for the sale, manufacture, import, export, supply, distribution, control and use of veterinary medicinal products – is aimed at modernising legislation, stimulating innovation and increasing the availability of veterinary medicinal products and strengthening the EU’s campaign against antimicrobial resistance.

The new EU Regulation (2019/6) on veterinary medicinal products will be applicable for all EU member states from January 28, 2022.

Department response

In a statement to AgriLand, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said it has been engaged in “targeted consultation” with stakeholder representative groups in relation to the regulation since late 2019 – and that this process is continuing on the ground.

“In terms of preparing for the implementation of the regulation, the department is currently in the middle of the process of targeted stakeholder engagement with representative bodies.

“It is planned that a public consultation on the regulation will issue in the coming weeks.

“Stakeholder engagement will continue over the course of the next 18 months as the department seeks to work with all stakeholders in meeting the objectives of the regulation.

“The department intends to complete a ‘Regulatory Impact Assessment’ and ‘Statutory Instrument’, implementing the areas of national discretion in the regulation in the second half of 2021,” the statement outlined.

‘Acutely aware of challenges’

The department specifically referenced its engagement with co-op and store representative bodies who currently supply veterinary medicines to farmers – adding that it is “acutely aware of the challenges” that these changes represent.

“An issue of clear concern for these stakeholder groups is the consequences of a recent report by a HPRA [Health Products Regulatory Authority] Expert Taskforce.

“The taskforce concluded that there is clear evidence of resistance to anti-parasitic veterinary medicines used in food-producing animals in Ireland. The report also found evidence of environmental damage from these products.

“In line with the conclusions of the taskforce report, Article 34.3 of Regulation 2019/6 determines that anti-parasitic products must be subject to a veterinary prescription prior to dispensing.

There is no suggestion that any stakeholder who is permitted to currently supply anti-parasitic products will not be able to do so post January 28, 2022.

The spokesperson acknowledged that anti-parasitics are “an important resource” for Irish farmers in Ireland’s pasture-based production system.

Therefore, it is described as “absolutely critical” that the efficacy of these products is protected in order to support Irish agriculture in the coming decades.

“All stakeholders must work together to ensure anti-parasitics do not lose their effectiveness due to inappropriate use.

“There is no new pipeline of products which can replace our existing range of anti-parasitic products.”

The department said it is “acutely aware” of the challenge to all stakeholders that this change in route of supply will represent, adding that its “overarching objective” is to support the effective and prudent use of anti-parasitics.

“This will involve co-operation amongst farmers, vets, co-ops, stores, pharmacies, the department and other key stakeholders, such as Animal Health Ireland (AHI),” the statement concluded.