Livestock farmers are calling on the Department of Agriculture to provide "clear and practical" guidelines on the operation of withdrawal periods for animal medicines, some of which have been increased significantly.
Farmers who buy in stock run the risk of facing serious penalties where information on the prior treatment of the animals has not been accurate.
Beef finishers are particularly exposed as they have to certify that animals going for slaughter have not been treated with medicines within specified withdrawal periods.
However, the Department has confirmed that farmers supplying livestock to slaughter plants -- who must sign the mandatory Food Information Certificate to accompany the stock -- are equally liable for the consequences of any remedies administered to the animals prior to their ownership.
While the Irish Medicines Board has confirmed that the withdrawal period for a long list of regularly used animal remedies has been extended to two months, the withdrawal period for one widely used prescription preventative and treatment for red water in cattle has been extended to seven months.
"Testing procedures have now become so sensitive that even minute traces [of medicines] can be determined and the food safety authorities and pharmaceutical companies are protecting themselves by transferring the responsibility back to the farmer," said veterinary practitioner, Peadar O Scanaill.
"It is a frightening situation for any farmer, and particularly those who buy in stock and may not be made aware of prior treatments administered. It is also going to be a problem for vets signing the Dairy Hygiene Certificate," he added.
The completion of the Food Information Certificate is a legal requirement for the supply of livestock to slaughter plants and a current Dairy Herd Health Certificate signed by the farmer and the farmer's vet must be lodged with, and retained by, the dairy processor before milk from a farm can be accepted.
If residues are found in the meat or milk, the supplier is liable for any product recall, or losses sustained, if it is established that the withdrawal period had not been observed.
The farmer will also be held in breach even if he/she was unaware that the treatment had been administered before the animal was purchased.
"It is the responsibility, under Animal Remedies legislation, of the farmer who presents the animal for slaughter to ensure that any post-treatment withdrawal period has been complied with," a Department spokesperson stated.
However, Pat McCormack of the ICMSA's dairy committee said it was neither "reasonable nor practical" to expect farmers purchasing livestock to carry responsibility for treatments administered to animals prior to purchase.
The Irish Medicines Board pointed out that changes in withdrawal periods were the result of concerns for food safety and followed a move by the EU to harmonise requirements across member states.