A Westminster committee has warned the UK government of the urgent need to find solutions to future veterinary medicine supply in NI amid a “tight timescale” due to upcoming elections in both the EU and UK.

In a letter to Minister of State Steve Baker, the chair of the House of Lords European sub-committee on the Windsor Framework, Lord Jay, highlighted the findings of an inquiry into how veterinary medicine supply could be impacted post-Brexit.

At present, a grace period which allows vet medicines to move from Britain to NI, runs out on 31 December 2025. Beyond that date, EU rules will apply in full, which require registered addresses on vet medicines to be in the EU or NI and medicines coming from Britain to undergo additional batch testing on entry into NI. Witnesses to the inquiry highlighted that the costs of compliance will result in fewer products being available and a reduction in product lines (various pack sizes).

Initial estimates from the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate are that 51% of veterinary products currently in use in NI were at risk once the grace period ends, although that figure has since been revised to between 34% and 35%.

In addition, some specific medicines, such as a botulism vaccine, are not approved for use in the EU, so will be unavailable post 31 December 2025.

Current estimates are that 25,000 cattle in NI are vaccinated against botulism each year.

Giving evidence, witnesses also highlighted how there appears to be a difference of opinion over the grace period, with the EU viewing it as an opportunity to achieve full compliance with its rules, while the UK seems to view it as more time to find alternative solutions.

“Both views cannot be correct at the same time,” noted the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

In his letter to Minister Baker, Lord Jay asks various questions relating to these issues and what alternative solutions are currently being explored.

The consensus from the NI agri-food industry is that a veterinary agreement between the UK and EU could solve wider post-Brexit issues. However, with the current UK government resistant to anything that involves alignment with EU rules, other suggestions include a “grandfather” rule, under which veterinary medicines approved pre-Brexit could still be supplied from Britain to NI.

“Does the government agree with this suggestion? If so, how will it convince the EU of the merits of such an approach?” asks Lord Jay.