Protocol poses threat to animal medication

‘Crucial’ animal medications risk discontinuation as protocol rules implemented at the start of 2023 could result in ‘heart-breaking’ repercussions for animal owners.

In Northern Ireland (NI), the protocol that prevents a hard border in Ireland means that NI will remain in the European Union’s (EU) single market for goods. NI will adhere to EU requirements unlike England, Scotland and Wales who have left the EU’s single market.

At present animal medicines are currently exempt from any rules relating to the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol. However, this grace period expires in January 2023.

When protocol rules are applied to animal medication, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has stated that industry data suggests that 51 per cent of veterinary medicines will be discontinued.

The protocol rules being applied to veterinary medicines will have a vast effect on all sectors such as farm animals, equines, and companion animals. Within these sectors the protocol requirements will have implications on public health, trade, animal health and welfare and the overall agriculture economy.

From January 2023, veterinary medicines will be required to be batch tested and released to move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. From this date they will also require a marketing authorisation holder (MAH) location based in Northern Ireland or the European Union, not one from Great Britain.

The President of the Northern Ireland Vet Association (NIVA), Fiona McFarland said that protocol requirements,

NIVA’s President added that; “Longer term, the scale of the changes needed to implement the EU medicines requirements mean that some products are likely to be withdrawn from the NI market as it is too small for viable solutions to be found”.

By using the current MAH locations and what medicines fall under this requirement, medications that will be discontinued can be determined. At present all veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland are still available with supplies not yet being impacted.

Some vaccinations that are used to prevent bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), pneumonia, leptospirosis, rotavirus, and salmonella in cattle will be impacted. As well as vaccinations used to treat clostridial disease and abortion in sheep, and salmonella in poultry.

Farmer, Julie Bonnar shares how the potential requirements on medications that prevent illness and disease in animals will affect her sheep and cattle.

Julie stated that; “The sheep could be affected by enzootic abortion which is a disease that will cause the death of unborn lambs. Another disease that may affect sheep is toxoplasmosis which also causes abortion in sheep… Abortion in sheep will result in lower lamb percentage”.

She added that; “Cattle could be affected by diseases such as bovine viral diarrhoea, pneumonia and leptospira. All of these diseases are very contagious and will result in the death of animals and their unborn babies”.

Expressing her worries, Julie said; “We are very concerned that these medicines may be discontinued, because they are crucial to the animals that we raise on our farm. The loss of livestock will impact the day-to-day profitability of the farm”.

Moreover, vaccinations that treat equines for influenza and tetanus and vaccines for domestic animals (cats and dogs) to treat common diseases such as parvovirus, leptospirosis and feline flu and leukaemia will see discontinuations.

Drug classes that treat infections of parasitic worms along with injectable and oral antibiotics will have discontinuations.

NIVA’S President said; “There will be questionable supply and availability of some important medications used to treat medical conditions in dogs along with concerns over simple daily necessities like intravenous fluids”.

Caitlin’s dog is among those that require daily medication to relieve pain and suffering.

A concerned dog owner, Caitlin Mulhern stated that her Pedigree Labrador tore a ligament in both legs and surgery was required to repair the damage. Due to this, once-a-day Caitlin’s much loved family pet requires Loxicom. The medication is prescribed in six week periods and helps relieve the dog’s pain and inflammation.

Caitlin expressed that; “The removal of medicine would cause her to be in a lot of pain so it would be difficult for her to walk without being in pain without it. It would be heart-breaking to watch your animal suffer from not having the medication it needs”.

Although NIVA’s President stated that; “even with some alternatives being available after 1st January, withdrawing the bulk of many product categories will put significant pressure on the supply chain of any other remaining products. Some of the drugs which may not be available, do not have direct equivalents with the same licensing indications for use, method of administration or offer the same therapeutic action or provision of immunity”.

Adding that; “We are calling for the issue to be placed at the top of the agenda for ongoing UK and EU commission negotiations and collaboration between all involved stakeholders to ensure an effective and permanent solution to be reached which maintains access to all veterinary medicines”.

If a solution is not agreed by the end of December 2022, NIVA’s President says an extension to the current grace period “needs to be agreed” and animal welfare implications should be taken into consideration and alternatives should not be assumed as ‘the simple answer’”.

A DAERA spokesperson said; “Any disruption in the supply of veterinary medicines would have significant implications for the health and welfare of animals here. The Department remains in close contact with the UK Government, which leads on negotiations with the EU on this matter.”

DAERA added; “We have been assured that the UK Government continues to press for a long-term durable solution to be agreed with the EU, which would ensure the continued availability of medicines in NI, and, in the meantime, it has sought the EU’s agreement to an extension of the current grace period.”

All in all, this is a worrying time for all animal owners as they rely on negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union to determine the implications that protocol requirements will have on veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland.

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Update: As of the 19th December 2022, the grace period has been extended to December 2025. Businesses and citizens within Northern Ireland will be able to continue to buy veterinary products from inside the UK until this new expiration date.

Author profile

Holly Fleck is an Ulster University Journalism Graduate and current Journalism MA student at Ulster University. She has a passion for Health and Business reporting. Holly has previously hosted UUSU's The Student Show podcast, Ulster University events as well as contributing content to QR's The Scoop and Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary.