Minister must heed concerns of rural co-ops and independent merchants – ICOS

Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue must use his discretion to adjust the currently stalled Veterinary Medicinal Products, Medicated Feed and Fertilisers Regulation Bill in order to ensure that elements of the Bill, which would inhibit competition, can be ruled out, ICOS has stated this week.

ICOS Livestock and Environmental Policy Director, Ray Doyle said: “Minister McConalogue has cited an opinion from the Attorney General which led to his withdrawal of the Bill, but this shouldn’t be used simply now as a way of setting matters in stone. There is still leeway for the Minister to revise aspects of the Bill in a way that would satisfy all legislative requirements while ensuring that fair market competitive conditions are upheld.

“A further solution can and must be brought forward and the Minister has the authority to do so.

“We welcome the Minister’s recent comments that he is keen to ensure no dilution of competition but we must now see this commitment realised in terms of how the Bill is revised”.

Mr. Doyle said that ICOS had warned the Minister on mutiple occasions since 2019 that new regulations would create a dramatic shift in the medicines supply chain, in favour of Private Veterinary Practitioners.

“The Minister says non-vets can’t prescribe veterinary medicines, ruling out designated responsible persons in co-ops and licensed merchants from the supply chain. As matters currently stand, this means that all co-operative branches will be negatively impacted by the Bill, as farmers will need to have prescriptions in place for all anti-parasitic products – before they could purchase from their co-op branch,” Mr. Doyle said, claiming this shift would result in a disadvantage to co-ops and indepdent merchants.

“For example, a vet writing a prescription has the obvious first opportunity to fill and dispense the product, before a co-operative has an opportunity to dispense it. This will strip out the co-operative or independent licensed merchant from what is a reasonable, fair market entitlement, it will remove footfall and it will remove freedom of choice for farmers,” he said.

ICOS has, Mr. Doyle says, proposed a number of solutions to the Minister, one of which is that veterinary surgeons be exempted from calling to farms if they are prescribing anti-parasitics.

“Remote prescribing of anti-parasitics can and should be allowed by the legislation and it is this more measured and reasonable approach that the Minister must deliver upon,” he said.

“Prescribing anti-parasitic products contributes generally to animal health; it does not typically involve any emergency for the animal and there are no human resistance issues with these products. Therefore the threshold of knowledge required to enable a vet to accurately prescribe is lower and this can be the basis for remote prescription”.

The ICOS Director added that nobody suggested that anti-microbials be prescribed remotely.

“If the Minister continues to push through the legislation without revision, farmers will be faced with decreased availability of anti-parasitic products and generally increased costs. There will be serious economic effects for rural Ireland from Carndonagh to Cahirciveen,” Mr. Doyle said.

“The sustainability of the co-op store network, independent merchants and veterinary pharmacists will be undermined as a key pillar of their offering will be diminished”.

ICOS has confirmed it has requested an immediate meeting with Minister McConalogue to seek amendments to the legislation.