A major crisis in the animal health sector has been averted with the European Commission granting an extension to the grace period for veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland until December 31 2025.
The UFU through President, David Brown and staff members had met the European Commission (EC) negotiating team in Brussels on December where they pointed out their concerns.
UFU president David Brown said, “With 31 December 2022 only weeks away, it is a huge relief for Northern Ireland’s (NI) agriculture industry and pet owners, that a three yearlong extension to the grace period for veterinary medicines has been granted, albeit for a final time. 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. 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.”
While the grace period is now extended for an additional three years, the key issue remains the same. At the end of the latest extension, 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.
“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. Although the full detail of the extension is not yet known, the UFU will keep working on the matter, with the aim of securing a permanent solution.”
Several local MLAs also commented. The Ulster Unionist Party’s Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs spokesperson, Tom Elliott has welcomed the confirmation from the EU that they have agreed a further three year extension to the grace period for access to veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland.
He said; “Although this is only a stop-gap and temporary solution, we should never have been in this position and I have called on numerous occasions – the last being just a month ago – that animal medicines should be removed from the scope of the Protocol.
“The extended grace period for medicines was planned to come to the end of this month at the end of 2022 and so far, the implementation of the full protocol rules would mean that potentially half of all veterinary medicines would no longer be available. The potential impact on our agri-food industry is significant to say the least, and this should never have been allowed to happen. 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.
“Medicines should never have been included in the Protocol. I am asking for a practical common-sense approach to this issue and remove animal medicines from the scope of the Protocol, which would help future proof the agri food industry and at the same time provide a solution that helps protect animal health and food security. ”