There is “ample opportunity” within the EU Veterinary Medicines Regulation to address the concerns of farmers, licensed merchants and veterinary pharmacies on coming changes to vet medicines rules, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

As has been extensively reported in recent months, from January 1, 2022, EU regulations will mean that antiparasitic vet medicines – which up to now have not required prescription from a vet in Ireland – will from that date require a prescription.

This has given rise to concerns that licensed merchants and other qualified retailers of these products may be frozen out of the market place, with vets playing the role of both prescriber and vendor.

However, the IFA believes that a solution can be found that alleviates these concerns while remaining in line with the rules.

Pat Farrell, the association’s animal health chairperson, was commenting after “very productive discussions” with representatives of the Licenced Merchants Association, veterinary pharmacies and the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).

According to Farrell, all stakeholders agree that a practical solution can be provided that “recognises the professionalism of farmers; suitably qualified responsible persons in licenced merchants stores; and pharmacists, while complying with the framework set out in the regulations“.

“The unique situation that exists on the island of Ireland is also a significant factor that must be taken into account,” he stressed.

Farmers in Northern Ireland will continue to access their anti-parasitic products without a prescription from a vet.

“In order to avoid a ‘two-tier’ system on the island, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Charlie McConalogue must take on board the views of the majority of stakeholders in resolving this issue,” the IFA animal health chair argued.

“The easy option would place all of the control in one service provider, which is on public record as saying their economic dependence relies on selling medicines to farmers,” he noted.

Farrell went on: “It’s not credible under the objective of reducing usage that the only prescriber facilitated in the system has a stated strong economic interest in the sales of these products.”

However, he said he was not in support of preventing the sales of the products by vets, saying vets are “important in maximising competition in the supply of those products”.

“Economically viable veterinary practices are needed throughout the country to provide a service to farmers. All parties must be facilitated in active involvement in parasite control nationally,” Farrell argued.

He added: “As farmers, we don’t want to be buying products that are not needed on our farms. Veterinary medicines are a significant annual input cost and we fully support targeted and more appropriate use of all medicines.”

He noted the advice from the Health Products Regulation Authority (HPRA), which recommended the involvement of all stakeholders in the provision of advice and guidance in parasite control.

“Deviating away from this, based on the current supply channels for veterinary medicine, shows a very unfair competitive advantage rests with the prescriber,” Farrell concluded.