At a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine yesterday (Thursday, November 12), veterinary officers from the Department of Agriculture were grilled about an upcoming change to veterinary medicine regulations.

The change would mean that veterinary medicines could not be supplied without prescription from a vet.

The department representation – principal veterinary medicine officer Colm Forde and veterinary inspector Caroline Garvan – were keen to stress that the EU regulation preventing sale of products without prescription is not itself new, but Ireland had up until now being availing of a derogation that allowed licenced merchants to sell the products.

However, that derogation, the department officials said, was dependent on there being no evidence of resistance to anti-parasitics or no evidence of environmental damage.

The department officials said that a 2019 study by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) found evidence of both, and that, on seeking legal opinion, the department came to the conclusion that Ireland could no longer avail of the derogation.

Committee chair Jackie Cahill went around the room to get the views of various TDs and senators on the department officials’ comments.

Senator Paul Daly highlighted that there would be a different regulatory set up between Ireland and Northern Ireland when Ireland’s access to this derogation ends from 2022, as Northern Ireland will still be under a derogation that exists in UK law.

Senator Tim Lombard argued that, whether the farmer gets the product from a vet or a licenced merchant, it won’ change how the farmer gives the medication to the animal, so the change in rules will not have any effect on resistance to anti-parasitics.

The Co. Cork senator argued that “we are on thin wedge,” as it would logically lead to vets administering the medication themselves, until they are “dosing every calf in Ireland”.

However, Caroline Garvan of the department hit back at this, saying that the regulation does not mean that the vets have to come onto farms and administer everything they give a prescription for.

Independent Roscommon-Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice, like Lombard, disagreed with the resistance argument, saying: “Farmers are not idiots. If they see something isn’t working, they’re not going to keep giving it.

Farmers give the injections to their cattle. They don’t go around willy-nilly deciding every week ‘sure we’ll throw that into them’.

He suggested introducing courses to bring merchants up to a certain standard that would allow them to sell the products without prescriptions.

“Small farmers won’t be able to afford what’s coming down the road,” Fitzmaurice warned.

He asked Colm Forde, from the department, if the department had been in touch with the European Commission on this issue. Forde responded that it had and that the commissions line was that Ireland can no longer avail of the derogation.

“The one thing I don’t want to see is a situation where there are vets coming in day-in day-out onto farm yards,” Fitzmaurice stressed.

Committee chair Cahill agreed with much of the points that were raised by his Oireachtas colleagues, and said the department’s representatives would have to be brought back before the committee.