28 December 2001

EU wants POMs to be across board…

BRUSSELS is trying to end the UKs system of selling animal health products through agricultural merchants, which could increase prices paid by producers and result in thousands more job losses in the countryside.

The proposed EU legislation – announced by the EU Commission in July 2001 – would see all animal health products sold as prescription only medicines (POM). Vets would be the sole suppliers of current pharmacy and merchants list products, such as clostridial vaccines, wormers, sheep dips and fly ointments.

Only the UK and the Eire currently allow merchants to supply PML products. In the UK they account for about 25% of the £357m animal health market.

The Farmers Union of Wales was one of the first to respond to the proposals. It claimed that designating all health products as POM would lead to higher prices. "Welsh producers already pay more for vet medicines than producers in other EU countries and this proposal will push costs up even further," said FUW deputy president Gareth Vaughan.

The Animal Health Distributors Association (AHDA) also wrote to the EU Commission in July. AHDA secretary general Roger Dawson told FW the plan will destroy the jobs of at least 3500 people qualified to sell PMLs.

"Vets becoming sole suppliers of medicines will also lead to price hikes for producers and a degree of over-restriction will inevitably result in illegal trading and a lack of choice."

Manufacturers, represented by the National Office of Animal Health, pointed out possible welfare implications. "If farmers have to get a vet to inspect every animal before they are prescribed a medicine, some may be tempted not to bother," said a NOAH spokeswoman.

Peter Coe, director of animal health products at Pfizer is more concerned the legislation will result in manufacturers having to alter distribution systems away from agricultural merchants. "This comes with a cost," he said.

But persuading Brussels to change its mind will not be easy. "This part of the commission is staffed by Germans, who have been pushing for POMs for years. They want the directive agreed by next spring," said Dr Dawson.

The commission replied to Dr Dawsons letter, saying its plan "would not represent a significant change to the present situation in the EU".

The letter went on to state its aim was to "ensure a high level of consumer safety, with maximum benefits for animal health and welfare".

But Whitehall is still fighting the EU proposal. According to a written Parliamentary answer from DEFRA minister Lord Whitty, medicine prices will rise. "UK officials should seek to modify the proposal to enable a flexible approach to the distribution of vet medicinal products."

The NFU is also fighting the proposal through the Animal Health Alliance. The organisations animal health chairman Neil Cutler said the current system of selling PML products was long-established and worked extremely well.

"Farmers have bought some animal medicines from professional dispensers without the need for a prescription for many years."

NFU animal health adviser Peter Rudman said Brussels should allow member states to operate systems most appropriate to local requirements.

Draft proposals were sent to the European Parliament and member states at the end of November, so debate will begin early in the new year. A final decision is likely in about 18 months. &#42

&#8226 Higher prices?

&#8226 Job losses?

&#8226 PML system works well.

Vets becoming sole suppliers of animal medicines could increase prices paid by producers and result in thousands of job losses at agricultural merchants.