It will now not be possible for the bill establishing a national fertiliser database and new regulations for prescribing veterinary medicines to be passed through the Oireachtas by the end of the year.

That’s according to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, who said that advice from the Attorney General on the Veterinary Medicinal Products, Medicated Feed and Fertiliser Regulation Bill means that the passage of the bill will be delayed.

However, the minister aims to have the bill passed in January.

Speaking at a Fianna Fáil agricultural policy conference in Tyrrellspass, Co. Westmeath on Saturday (December 3), the minister said that the Attorney General had advised that, on the issue of allowing non-vets to prescribe veterinary medicines, it would not be legally possible to retrospectively designate responsible persons (such as licenced merchants) as prescribers.

This means that, under the legislation, only vets will be able to give a prescription for the medicinal products that will require prescriptions under the new law.

The law will see anti-parasitic veterinary medicines, that are currently available over the counter, become prescription-only medicines (POMs).

One of the aims of this new regulation is to combat antimicrobial resistance and resistance to anti-parasitics.

Farm organisations, licenced merchants and veterinary pharmacists have opposed this move, as it will, they say, add complexity and additional cost to farmers, as well as hinder competition in the veterinary medicines supply sector.

The minister said on Saturday: “The legal advice I have back…is that it is not possible to retrospectively designate responsible officers as prescribers. So therefore…it is going to be required going forward that vets are the prescribers.”

He added: “So the key issue now is actually to ensure that we don’t see any dilution of competition, that we don’t see a dilution of the market. Previously, people who went for anthelmintics [anti-parasitics] went to approved outlets, not just vets.

“So it’s about ensuring that we bring in processes to address antimicrobial resistance, but ensure that that competition stays in place,” Minister McConalogue commented.

“I had hoped that we would be able to get the process completed by the end of this year. Given the tight timeline in place it’s not going to be possible to complete it by the end of the year.”

The law will also see the establishment of a national fertiliser database. A delay in the establishment of this database presents an issue for the eco-scheme under Pillar I of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from next year.

One of the measures farmers can avail of under the eco-scheme is to limit chemical nitrogen usage.

Under this action, farmers’ application levels of chemical nitrogen are to be checked using the fertiliser database.

The minister said that “contingency arrangements” are in place for those farmers who undertake to limit chemical nitrogen, so their usage can be tracked.

“I want to ensure that, during January, we have the legislation through the Dáil and Seanad, and that we have the new fertiliser register in place very early in the new year,” Minister McConalogue said.