Concerns around the rise of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) are the driving factor behind widescale electronic and regulatory changes to the sale of antibiotics and wormers from January next year.

The new EU regulations will mean that farmers will need a prescription from a vet to buy wormer and fluke doses and prescriptions will be issued via text or email, while simultaneously uploaded to a digital cloud.

Colm Forde, a principal overseeing veterinary regulations in the Department of Agriculture, explained that the fears over AMR were a major reason for the changes.

“No new group of medicines is being developed. If the current medicines stop working, that would really affect Ireland,” Forde said.

In regard to farmer concerns over the prescription rules limiting competition in terms of where they could buy medicines, he said: “All the power is in the farmer’s hands as to where they choose to buy their medicines and whether they buy it from a practice, a licensed merchant or pharmacy, it’s completely the farmer’s choice.”

If the current medicines stop working, that would really affect Ireland

The veterinary community has also voiced concerns, with Veterinary Ireland president Conor Geraghty saying they had not had any engagement from the Department.

He said they were concerned that farmers in smaller, rural practices would be overwhelmed by the new system and pointed out that it would be difficult in some rural areas to issue an online prescription when working on farms or over a busy spring-calving season.

Phone app

Forde said the Department was considering developing a phone app for vets to issue prescriptions, but said that hard copies of prescriptions would still be available for farmers.

He also said there would be a reasonable time allowed for uploading prescriptions for vets and that they planned a number of focus groups in the coming months.

“We will have an oversight of every prescription issued in the State and we want to make sure these valuable commodities are protected and continue to work at farm level. The information will then be used to inform policy decisions,” Forde said.

Trade missions

Veterinary inspector at the Department Caroline Garvan also said that the lack of a prescription service was becoming an issue for countries looking to trade with Ireland.

“It’s very important from a trade perspective that we have this evidence to show, because there are other countries that have had this kind of data in place for over 20 years,” Garvan said.

“We are getting challenged on not having this data when we have trade missions coming here.”

She echoed Forde on the considerable fears over the rise of AMR.

“Current global pandemic has highlighted the importance of having effective medicines,” Garvan explained.

“Some people view AMR as the next global pandemic, so we see this system as key to providing scientific evidence, which will drive future policy decisions on how we address AMR.”

Additional reporting by Niall Hurson