Protocol threat to animal health

Veterinary surgeons in Northern Ireland (NI) have joined forces with the farming lobby to warn of the risk to animal health and welfare if arrangements are not made to ensure veterinary medicines remain freely available.
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At the heart of the matter is the ongoing debate regarding the future of the NI Protocol.

Concerns were highlighted in a joint statement from the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the North of Ireland Veterinary Association (NIVA). Both say that the issue is not about the politics around the protocol, but the pursuit of practical solutions to ensure livestock productivity and animal welfare do not suffer.

The problem stems from what happens at the end of the protocol grace period in December, when all veterinary products used in the EU, including Northern Ireland, must be licensed in the EU.

Without a solution this could see UK veterinary medicines destined for Northern Ireland having to be re-licensed for Northern Ireland – an outcome some companies might deem not cost effective, given the limited size of the market here.

A large range of everyday veterinary products would be affected, including anthelmintics, anti-inflammatory drugs, vitamins and vaccines.

The goal, says the UFU and NIVA, must be a common sense solution that maintains these products for the farming industry.

The organisations warn that if this is not resolved the outcome would be bad for animal welfare and for productivity in agriculture. They say failure to resolve this would pose serious threats to the viability of food and farming and undermine key selling credentials of the industry.

“The issue with vet medicines that continues to be unresolved, is causing more political issues regarding the NI Protocol and it’s in everybody’s best interests that we get common sense solutions and firm assurances in the next few months – something which is long overdue,” stressed UFU president David Brown.

“We lobbied for vet medicines to be included when human medicines were being considered despite what some have said. We’re extremely frustrated at the ‘they said’ ‘we said’ game that is being played out. It’s time wasting and utterly hard to take when we’ve been highlighting this issue for so long. It hasn’t just cropped up overnight and it’s about high time vet medicines are dealt with in the same way as human medicines.”

He added: “The grace period extension at the end of 2021 was never a solution nor is the prospect of running up to the wire this coming December. What we need urgently is for goodwill and common sense to prevail on both sides so we can solve this issue with immediate effect to ensure livestock farming remains at the heart of our economy.”

Under current legislation medicines approved in other EU member states can be imported by use of a ‘special import licence’, but NIVA says the application process is cumbersome and does not represent a practical solution. The draft UK legislation to remove parts of the protocol arrangements could get around the issue of continued access to UK registered medicines.

“But the UFU and NIVA say the future of this legislation is too uncertain to offer the level of assurance they need about the situation after the present protocol grace period ends in December.”

NIVA senior vice president Mark Little commented:“This issue has already gone beyond the point where we have the luxury of time to secure a resolution. We and the UFU have lobbied for this without the progress or understanding we need around the threat posed to the industry. Put simply, if this is not resolved, come the end of December up to half the veterinary products we use here could be lost overnight, with massive consequences for vets, pet owners and farmers.”