The Ulster Farmer’s Union (UFU) has welcomed a three year extension of a ‘grace period’ to ensure the supply of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland.
he temporary post-Brexit arrangements had been due to expire at the end of this year.
It led to a group of MPs warning about a risk of shortages which would impact a range of treatment for animals including vaccines and anesthetics required for operations.
However on Monday, EU chief Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic announced that the EU Commission had “taken steps to ensure the continuity of supplies of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland, but also Cyprus, Ireland and Malta.”
UFU president David Brown, who met with negotiating teams in Brussels earlier this month, described the extension as a “huge relief” for the agriculture industry and pet owners.
“The UFU has been working relentlessly, lobbying the EC negotiating team at the highest level and the national press, to raise the profile of the situation and achieve a solution while concern continued to grow among farmers and all animal owners in NI,” he said .
“Credit must also go to Northern Ireland Veterinary Association for their efforts in helping to address this issue. However, it is important to stress this is a temporary fix not a solution.”
Mr Brown warned that key concerns remain the same and will need to be resolved before the latest extension comes to an end and vowed to keep working towards a permanent solution.
“All veterinary products used in the EU, including NI, must be licensed in the EU. The availability and cost of a large range of everyday veterinary medicines would be affected including anthelmintics, anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamins and vaccines,” he said.
“UFU efforts will continue and will focus on achieving a permanent solution to ensure the continued supply of the veterinary medicine portfolio, half of which had been hanging in the balance until this extension was announced.
“The implications of achieving anything less will be hugely damaging for animal health and welfare in NI, and local food production at a time when we need to be sustaining and developing food security to meet the rising demand for food.”
The protocol means Northern Ireland is still inside the EU’s pharmaceutical regulatory system – but it gets most of its medicines from Great Britain, which is not.
The EU previously changed its laws in a bid to help guarantee supplies of medicines to NI from GB, however the arrangement did not cover veterinary medicines.
Mr Sefcovic said extending the grace period to the end of December 2025 was “a practical solution to a practical problem” which would allow “ample time to adapt”.
The UK’s Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, said the move brings greater clarity to the veterinary industry here.
“I welcome this announcement which provides greater certainty for the veterinary medicines industry in Northern Ireland,” he tweeted.
“We will continue to look for long-term solutions on the Protocol, including on vet meds, to provide political stability in NI.”
Meanwhile the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), Malcolm Morley, described the extension as “extremely positive” and said it provides much needed time to “adapt” for future compliance.
“Our thanks go to our BVA NI Branch officers, who all worked incredibly hard to help secure a positive resolution to this serious issue,” he added.
CBI Northern Ireland Director, Angela McGowan, praised UK and EU negotiators for showing “pragmatism” and warned the extended time “must be well-spent in securing a lasting, practical solution” to ongoing problems.
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said the “act of good faith” by the EU will provide certainty going forward as negotiations on the Protocol continue.
“Extending these grace periods is another act of good faith from the EU who have bent over backwards throughout the Brexit process to reach agreed solutions when issues have presented themselves,” he said.
“They have done much of the heavy lifting in these negotiations and it’s time that the British government respond in kind so that a deal can be struck on the Protocol in the near future.”
The Mid Ulster representative said the “marked change in tone” between the UK and EU must be “capitalised on with intense efforts” to reach agreement on outstanding issues.
However Mr McGlone said the “substantial economic benefits and protections” of the protocol must be safeguarded.
“It is clear the EU is willing to compromise to do what’s right for people here and the British government must meet them halfway,” he added.
Alliance MLA Patrick Brown said he is “relieved” that the move “ensures continuity of medicines supply for now” and affords the UK and EU more time “to come to a negotiated solution on a crucial issue impacting animal welfare, farming and food security. ”
“This should now give legal certainty, including for ongoing agri-food access to the single market, especially as it was mutually agreed,” he added.
“However, further progress is still needed on a number of other issues as part of the wider UK-EU talks. That needs to be a priority early in the new year.”