Now, Dr Esther Skelly Smith, who is Junior Vice President of both the North of Ireland Veterinary Association and the British Veterinary Association NI Region, says that the grace period on Protocol restrictions in bringing veterinary pharmaceuticals into NI are due to run out at the end of December.
It is estimated that 51% of all current veterinary medicines will be blocked from coming into NI from 1 January, she said.
A leading veterinarian association has warned that a Northern Ireland Protocol block on bringing in 51% of animal medicines in from GB after 1 January could have serious implications for salmonella and eggs products in Northern Ireland. Esther Skelly-Smith says there are serious ramifications for public health and the wider agri-food economy.
“The mood is , we’re very concerned,” she told the News Letter.
“This will affect all sectors – farm, equine and pets – and will have significant implications on animal health and welfare, public health, trade and the agricultural economy. Medicines affected include anesthetics and vaccines, including salmonella vaccine for poultry, the loss of which poses a significant public health issue.”
“But it’s not just going to affect farming, it will affect pets as well and the equine industry. And botulism vaccines that we can currently order from South Africa, these need a special import license and there’s concern we will not be permitted that, once the grace period ends.”
The loss of salmonella vaccines “could potentially mean that we won’t have certain egg products or eggs available due to public health issues” and certain food products “may become dearer” as a result, she warned.
Dr Esther Skelly-Smith is warning that the Protocol will block 51% of veterinary medicines coming from GB in seven weeks – with potentially serious public health ramiifications, for example with salmonella.
“Our choice of veterinary medicines will be limited. So we may have welfare issues for your dog and cat if we can’t use the veterinary medicine we would want to. That has a big implication around welfare.”
The NI Protocol means that every batch of freshly manufactured veterinary medicine that is bound for NI will have to be specially tested to confirm it meets EU requirements.
“Longer term, the scale and costs of the changes needed to implement the EU medicines requirements mean that companies are likely to withdraw products from the NI market as it is too small for a viable commercial solution to be found.”
The lack of salmonella vaccines for poultry could also mean that NI products may be barred from certain markets, for example the EU.
And even if a solution is found immediately, some veterinary suppliers must buy medicines well in advance.
“There isn’t doesn’t seem to be a desire between the UK and EU to deal with this issue even though they are aware of it. That’s why my associations have been raising this for a considerable number of time.”
“We want the government and the EU to agree to an extension to the grace period to ease the immediate effects. And long term we would like them to come up with a solution to allow veterinary medicines to move freely, similar to that agreed for human medicines.”
The News Letter invited comment from the EU and Irish government in response to Dr Skelly Smith and UFU President David Brown.
The UK Government responded: “The UK’s priority is protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and our focus has been, and will always be, preserving political stability in Northern Ireland.
“We’re currently in talks with the EU about resolving the issues with the protocol. Our proposals would ensure that veterinary medicines are available throughout the UK at the same time as in the EU.”
The spokesperson added that the UK’s preference has always been for a negotiated solution on the Protocol, but also said that it is needed soon, which is why it introduced the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to Parliament.
An EU spokesman said it would not comment on Dr Skelly-Smith’s concerns.
He added: “The EU is engaging constructively with the UK to find joint solutions regarding the implementation of the Protocol. In that context, the Commission stands ready to find a way forward with the UK to ensure the long-term continuity of veterinary medicines supply to Northern Ireland.
“The Commission has already shown flexibility in the area of veterinary medicines. In a notice published in December 2021, it gave companies more time to adapt. The Commission will keep the timeframe set out in this notice under review.”
Meanwhile, UUP Agriculture spokesman Tom Elliott has also raised the alarm about the issue.
“The potential impact on our agri-food industry is significant to say the least and this should never have been allowed to happen,” he said on Friday. “We have an agri-food industry that is second to none, with excellent markets in GB, the EU and right across the world which contribute over £500 million to the economy of Northern Ireland.
“This is a very significant issue, not only for animal health and welfare but also for public health, the food supply chain and the Northern Ireland farming community. There is potential for severe repercussions. The risks are very real and need addressing as a matter of urgency and that is why I have written to HM Government to highlight this inequality and to ask that they do all in their power to resolve this.
Meanwhile, DUP South Down MLA Diane Forsythe met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin when he visited her constituency on Friday morning.
“As the only Unionist MLA in South Down, it was a useful opportunity to impress upon Micheál Martin the need for the Protocol to be replaced,” she said. “No unionist elected representatives in South Down support the Protocol. We operate power sharing, not majority rule.”