“Time is running out” to find a political solution on how the Department of Agriculture will implement threatened changes to EU rules on the supply of veterinary medicines, the Irish Co-operative Organization Society (ICOS) warned.
In an address to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, ICOS urged the Department to adopt policies that are “best for Ireland” and not to delegate responsibility to other stakeholders who, as society claimed, “have a legal framework that only enriches a profession “.
Warnings were also issued regarding the potentially “detrimental” effects of the regulations on the competitiveness and sustainability of the entire food production chain.
Under the new regulations, from January 2022, veterinarians will have to write a prescription for farmers to receive antiparasitic drugs (e.g. doses to treat worms / liver fluke) for farm animals. Currently, hundreds of trained “responsible” farmers in more than 900 licensed commercial and cooperative stores and 300 pharmacies across the country provide similar service for the supply of agricultural medicines.
CEO TJ Flanagan explained that ICOS has long been involved in developing the regulatory system for veterinary medicines in Ireland – from the Irish Medicines Board’s 1999 report recommending access to intramammary antibiotics based on an informed selection up to To enable 2007 EU animal welfare regulations that officially recognized the status of a co-op mastitis control program.
“These regulations included the exemption for antiparasitic drugs so that they could go without a prescription, as there was no evidence of the development of resistance in cattle at the time.
“We are now facing a new challenge: The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) recommends that antiparasitics no longer be able to make use of the above exemption due to the proven resistance to anthelmintics in cattle, which were first detected on Teagasc farms.
“This will mean that these drugs are only available on prescription. And the members of the committee should have no doubt that the shift of this group of medicines from the current dealer and cooperative supply route to “prescription medicines” will result in a significant shift in sales from cooperatives and dealers to veterinarians. ”
Such a move would result in economic losses and an undermining of the economic basis for the provision of a branch network, as well as a significant increase in costs for the end user.
Mr. Flanagan continued, “Cooperatives don’t want to sell drugs anymore; They want to sell less drugs, but they want to be able to sell those drugs to their members.
“The footprint in small rural branches created by animal health products is an important part of the mix and if it is lost there is no doubt that the branches will close.
“The simplest solution to this change would be to examine the potential to extend the right to prescribe to the ‘managers’ currently working in cooperatives and distributors (as foreseen in the directive).
“We need to significantly improve the data collection and control associated with this so that we can reduce consumption, stop drug resistance and protect these valuable drugs,” he said.
ICOS officials – including the chairman of the John O’Gorman Dairy Committee and the managing director of Ray Doyle Environment and Livestock Services – asserted that the ministry and the EU Commission had so far firmly rejected this proposal.
“Pending a final opinion from the Attorney General, we need to prepare contingent liabilities.
“The cooperatives have shown a great leadership role, particularly in reducing the use of dry cow cane. With the mastitis control program, we were able to determine a significant drop in sales of dry cow hoses, the switch to selective dry cow therapy and numerous cooperations that prohibit the use of critically important antibiotics.
“We accept that substantial changes will be required in terms of the prescribing mechanics but the concept of a specialist or consultant veterinarian working in a co-op laboratory with access to milk record data, bulk milk data and sensitivity data and detailed reports on milk hygiene and other audits remains robust and scientifically sound. “
It was also highlighted that the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI) has so far rejected the concept of the “cooperative specialist”.
“We urge the department to recognize the strategic importance of cooperatives, large and small, to animal health and to ensure that the veterinary council does not go beyond its remit.”
Mr Doyle stated that the Irish dairy, beef and sheep industries are heavily dependent on a number of effective anti-parasitic products.
“The committee must be made aware that the department has delegated the draft of a new prescription regime for prescription drugs (POM) to the VCI.
“In our discussions with the department, they insisted that ICOS meet directly with the VCI to express our concerns about the creation of a practical, transparent, fair and internationally justifiable prescription system for POM products for food-producing animals.
“At a recent meeting between the VCI and ICOS, they publicly expressed their view that the current legal method of using data to support veterinary prescriptions is not permissible unless there is an expensive clinical visit involving both clinical and sub-clinical Diseases cannot be diagnosed from certain mastitis and anthelmintics alone.
“However, data-driven diagnosis can identify these infections in isolation before they affect animal productivity, let alone welfare,” he said.
Mr Doyle explained that data is increasingly being used in all aspects of human and veterinary diagnosis – including on farms where the use of robotic milking has enabled farmers, in consultation with veterinarians, to intervene early in the treatment of animals.
“Our nationwide use of antibiotics has increased, which must be directly attributable to the fact that antibiotics were prescribed and delivered through the veterinarian-only channel, which is based almost entirely on costly clinical visits as per Veterinary Council guidelines.
“This clearly has not helped to reduce the use of antibiotics, but the VCI firmly believes that this should be the only route by which prescriptions are created.
“Dairygold – one of Ireland’s largest cooperatives – has reduced sales of antibiotic dry watch tubes by 35 percentage points over the past 10 years and increased sales of simple teat sealing devices by 64 percentage points in the same period.
“It is not in the cooperatives ‘best interests to increase sales of antibiotics, anthelmintics and antiparasitic drugs, but it is in the cooperatives and farmers’ interests to be able to deliver these to all farmers in a timely and inexpensive manner when needed.
‘The use of multiple data sources by the laboratory, farm dairy consultants and cooperative vets has produced good results for Ireland and must be allowed to continue,’ he said.
Finally, Mr Doyle highlighted three possible options Ireland have to resolve this issue by January 2022, when the EU regulation needs to be transposed into Irish law.
“The status quo remains with regard to the sales point for anthelmintics, intramammary and anti-parasitic drugs through cooperative branches, independent dealers and pharmacies, whereby those responsible are allowed to create prescriptions for all anti-parasitic products.
“Prescriptions are created for farmers by cooperative and private dealer vets when they are part of a general herd health plan – and based on precise data decisions for selected drug types and ruminant species remotely without a clinical visit.
“Or the dispensing and prescribing links may be disrupted to accommodate current best human practice and several other competing EU countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Italy.
“They did this with their livestock recipes in order to achieve maximum transparency and minimal market disruption,” he concluded.