‘Better balance’ wanted on medicine rules - Veterinary Practice
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‘Better balance’ wanted on medicine rules

LIVESTOCK farmers still face excessive restrictions on their ability to obtain and administer medicines and these are having adverse effects both on profitability and animal welfare, according to Peter Morris, chief executive of the National Sheep Association.

Mr Morris told the BVA congress that the changes introduced in the animal health distribution system designed to diminish the role played by veterinary practitioners have not gone far enough. He believed there should be greater recognition of the skills and knowledge of farmers to source and use these products responsibly.

“We have been told by the regulators that animal medicines are not sweets, but equally professional farmers are not wide-eyed children walking into a sweet-shop. There has to be a better balance.”

Unnecessary costs

He said too many products were only available through the veterinary route which placed unnecessary additional costs on the sheep industry and acted as a barrier to a more meaningful engagement between farmers and vets.

He challenged the need to classify ovine toxoplasmosis vaccines as POM-V products and he regretted the decision in 2006 that required tilmicosin-based agents to be administered by a veterinary surgeon.

While acknowledging the reasons for the decision – the deaths of two US stockmen after accidentally injecting themselves – he said the additional controls were an overreaction which denied farmers ready access to the most effective treatment for ovine mastitis.

But not according to Neil Sargison, senior lecturer in farm animal medicine at the Edinburgh veterinary school.

He maintained that the existing powers of veterinary surgeons to control the supply of animal products were crucial to the retention of effective treatment for parasitic disease in sheep. Indeed, unless stricter controls were imposed on certain products, there was a significant risk that problems with anthelmintic resistance would increase.

Dr Sargison said farm vets were the only people with sufficient understanding of the strategies needed to prevent similar problems with resistance to those that had developed in the southern hemisphere.

Worryingly, on a small sheep farm in south-eastern Scotland, he had found gastrointestinal worms that were no longer susceptible to moxidectin, or any other single agent or anthelmintic combination. This farm seemed an unlikely place for such problems but there were some aspects of the husbandry which had increased the selection pressure for resistant strains.

Dr Sargison said he had been shown the instructions for use of an anthelmintic product supplied by an agricultural pharmacist which gave an inadequate dose rate,a mistake which could certainly lead to the emergence of resistant strains.

The purpose of the recent changes in the classification system were an attempt to achieve “proportionality” in balancing the interests of the livestock industry with the need for adequate controls, noted John FitzGerald, operations director at the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

The Veterinary Products Committee was in the process of reviewing the status of 2,000 products and it was likely that about 49 of these, mostly small animal medicines, would be moved into a lower risk category.

New category

The VMD was also considering setting up a new category of products, POM products with extended availability, or POM-EA. These would only be available initially on a veterinary prescription but the medicines would then be available from a pharmacy or suitably qualified person for a period of up to three years.

Mr Morris felt that this would be a sensible compromise as it recognised the importance of a veterinarian’s diagnosis and advice while giving farmers greater choice in their supplier. He believed that the links between prescribing and selling medicines had to be loosened.

Sheep veterinarians in Britain must try to develop a relationship with their clients based more on using their skills as advisers on nutrition and genetic selection, as they have already done in many other major sheep raising countries, he said.

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