EUproposals will mean price rises, say distributors

1 February 2002

EUproposals will mean price rises, say distributors

By Wendy Owen

North-east correspondent

ANIMAL health distributors believe an increase in prices for routine animal medicines will be inevitable if proposals for a new European Union directive are approved.

Delegates at the annual meeting of the Animal Health Distributors Association (AHDA) heard that if producers are only able to buy medicines, such as wormers, from qualified vets, lack of competition will see price increases.

Speakers at the meeting also suggested that even if the industry won its fight to continue to sell routine medicines through registered merchants, producers may need written evidence of competence before buying supplies.

The audience also heard there is only six months left in which to prepare the UKs case for maintaining the status quo. After that, major decisions would made by European politicians, although the directive would probably not come into force until mid-2004.

Products currently classified as pharmacy and merchant list (PMLs) make up 25-40% of sales by most agricultural merchants, said AHDA chairman Rob Welch. The new proposals could see many PMLs reclassified as prescription only medicines (POMs), so they could no longer be bought at an agricultural supply store.

"If we do not successfully fight these proposals, many of the 1600 plus retailers would cease to exist because sales of remaining products would not support their overheads. We predict that 10,000-15,000 associated jobs would be at risk within the whole industry."

John FitzGerald, policy director of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) added that there was a lot of confusion in Europe over the interpretation of specific wording in the proposals.

Some other EU countries already had a POM system for all farm animal medicines and they believed the new directive would make little difference to their current systems.

But it was highly likely that some of their unclassified, over-the-counter products could in future be regarded as veterinary medicines. If the directive went ahead, they could fall into the POM category.

"The definition of what constitutes a veterinary medicine will be crucial to these proposals and when they realise this, other countries may also start to oppose these changes.

"However, the UK government is looking to modify the proposals and has said it wants to continue with the existing system, provided that consumer and animal welfare is protected," he said.

Mr FitzGerald also reminded delegates that it was up to each countrys government to apply the agreed directive within its own legislation. He said the Marsh report – a government review to investigate veterinary medicine distribution in 2000 – had suggested ways to help implement the new EU directive.

"At present, we have only one category for POM medicines, but the Marsh report suggested dividing it into a three-tier system. This would mean reclassifying some PML medicines as POM, but continuing to allow sales by registered merchants," said Mr FitzGerald.

Since the proposals for the EU directive were made public, the industry has formed the Animal Health Alliance. This organisation is designed to unite the various organisations in their attempt to persuade European politicians to make the proposals more flexible. A spokesman from the alliance stressed the importance of obtaining support from other European countries in its efforts.

"Each country thinks their system is best and there is an enormous amount of legislation already in place – why do we need more?" he asked.

"Is this directive to do with animal and consumer welfare or is it just seeking to harmonise all EU countries for the sake of it?"

Commenting on the proposals, British Veterinary Association chairman Andrew Scott told farmers weekly that the veterinary profession wholeheartedly supported the current UKanimal health distribution system.

Most mixed practices did not have the space to store large quantities of PML products and there was a fear that the Competitions Commission would step in if vets were allowed to monopolise sales of animal medicines, he said.

However, he added that vets were in favour of greater accountability in the animal health industry and would endorse a move towards vets becoming more involved in farm animal health programmes. &#42


Reclassification of PMLs possible.

Prices could increase.

AHDA favours status quo.

Producers face higher costs for current PMLproducts, such as wormers, if animal health distributors are unsuccessful in their battle against a new EUdirective.

&#8226 Reclassification of PMLs possible.

&#8226 Prices could increase.

&#8226 AHDA favours status quo.

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