The Northern Ireland Protocol has created a headache around the use of veterinary medicines. Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president John McLenaghan tells Poultry Business why the issue needs resolving urgently. Interview by Michael Barker
Can you describe the issue around veterinary medicines in NI and why there’s so much concern around what happens post-December?
At the end of the grace period for the Northern Ireland Protocol on 31 December 2022, veterinary medicines used in the EU, including Northern Ireland, must be licensed in the EU. This means that over 50% of all veterinary medicines used in Northern Ireland will not be available until the pharmaceutical companies submit the EU licensed medicines to the UK veterinary regulatory body, the Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD), for approval. This will require significant costs for a relatively small market and pharmaceutical companies may decide the return is not worth the cost and not resubmit for approval. If they do submit for approval, it is highly likely that these costs will be passed on to Northern Irish farmers and pet owners. Vets can complete paperwork called Special Import Certificates to get products from other EU member states, but it will be time consuming and have costs, and must be completed for each farm and pet.
What are the possible implications for the poultry sector in particular if a resolution is not reached?
Pragmatic solutions need to be found to make the Northern Ireland Protocol work for agriculture in its entirety and it must include veterinary medicines remaining freely available. It’s critical for the health and welfare of all sectors, in particular poultry, to prevent the rise of diseases.
What discussions are taking place currently on this issue?
We want to see ongoing negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol settled with immediate effect to address the series of issues it’s creating. Pragmatic solutions need to be found to make the Northern Ireland Protocol work for agriculture in its entirety, and as one of Northern Ireland’s largest and most economically valuable sectors, it’s in government’s best interests to deliver on this immediately. All the political parties recognise there are specific issues for agriculture that need to be resolved. Negotiated solutions are vital for our industry, and it’s about time both sides came together to deliver them.
What outcome would you like to see for farmers?
The solutions provided for human health medicines should apply to veterinary medicines. Briefings received by Defra revealed that the UK Government’s Protocol Bill is not a viable solution.
Is there anything poultry farmers can do to help in terms of lobbying, writing to MPs etc?
We encourage all farmers in NI, regardless of commodity, to write to MPs, MLAs and all those working in politics about this issue. We need them to take on board our concerns and to deliver on veterinary medicines remaining freely available otherwise it will put our livestock sectors at risk and our world-leading animal welfare status, which farmers are proud to uphold, and consumers expect.
NI issue ‘not about politics’, say industry bodies
The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) and the North of Ireland Veterinary Association (NIVA) issued a joint statement in June warning of the risk to animal health and welfare if arrangements are not made to ensure veterinary medicines remain freely available, regardless of the outcome of the debate on the future of the Protocol. The two sides agree 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.”
NIVA senior vice president Mark Little said: “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.”
AHDA backs NI Protocol Bill
The Animal Health Distributors Association (AHDA) has backed the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was being debated in the House of Commons as Poultry Business went to press, describing it as a “positive move” for the supply of veterinary medicines.
In the bill, veterinary medicines are covered under ‘manufactured goods, medicines and agri-foods’ in the regulation of goods clauses 7-11, AHDA explained. For the veterinary medicines industry, the bill will provide the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) with the power to disapply elements of EU law under the Protocol, such as those relating to the EU rules on veterinary medicines, it added.
The bill also provides the power for ministers to make new laws in connection with the Protocol, which could be used to create a UK-wide veterinary regime, according to AHDA. “This would remove regulatory barriers and supply challenges that will arise should the grace period end at the end of this year,” it said.
AHDA is an association drawn from companies that sell and prescribe animal health products and POM-VPS products, veterinary medicine producers and animal health equipment manufacturers, and has around 300 members.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol, as it stands, undermines the right of SQPs [Suitably Qualified Persons]/RAMAs [Registered Animal Medicines Advisers] to prescribe veterinary medicines in the UK, and the way that Northern Ireland operates,” said AHDA secretary general Bryan Lovegrove. “Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, meaning that Northern Ireland veterinary medicines fall under the responsibility of the VMD as a part of UK Government. Northern Ireland must therefore not be treated any differently in respect of the governance of veterinary medicine products,” he added. “AHDA fully endorses this bill going through Parliament. The bill is a very positive move for the veterinary medicines industry, and AHDA hopes the proposed changes will be made permanent.”
Examples of products likely to be withdrawn under the Protocol include anthelmintics, hormones, vitamins and minerals, as well as some classes of antibiotics, ani-inflammatory drugs and bacterial and viral vaccines.