Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

We must set the standards high to lead global medicine regime

John Shirley

A local radio station asked me last week to comment on a recent case where a farmer is thought to have died from self-medicating on products designated for farm livestock. The coroner reported that the man died from anaphylactic shock because of a reaction to the animal medicine.

My reaction was one of shock that such an event could take place. An enquiry to the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) evoked a similar response.

The idea of humans self-treating on veterinary products would be an anathema to the IMB, the authority charged with the licensing of veterinary medicines in Ireland.

The IMB's every fibre is devoted to the safe use of animal medicines.

Along with the Department of Agriculture, the IMB works to ensure that not even the slightest trace of a veterinary medicine enters the human food chain.

Indeed, when it comes to the distribution and usage of animal health products, the Irish regime is one of the strictest in the world.

This is only right. If we are to have the confidence of the world's food buyers we have to set the bar high. There should be no room for messing.

But, equally, the medicine and animal health product rules should be based on common sense and good science. Safe products and drugs that work should continue to be available. There must be an incentive for the drug firms to search for new chemicals which can improve the lives of man and beast.

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In today's fickle world, perception is now as important as fact. It is up to Ireland to ensure that the good facts of our animal medicine usage are well perceived.

Recently, the Animal and Plant Health Association (APHA) organised a seminar which updated the delegates on animal medicines and veterinary product matters.

From this meeting, I concluded that the overall scene is good but that there are also some flaws.

On the positive side:

•Drug residues in Irish dairy and meat products are so miniscule that it has almost become a non issue.

•Ireland is now producing 15pc of the world's infant milk formulations and this business is set to expand.

•The growth in the use of preventative vaccines continues. This is especially significant in the fight against pneumonia in cattle. Exploiting the animal's own immune system to fight disease is infinitely preferable to using antibiotics.

•Farmers are buying veterinary medicines in smaller packs. This should cut the usage of out-of-date products.

•Animal Health Ireland (AHI) is leading the drive to rid Ireland of the BVD virus. If this gets going, it could be the template for eradicating other predator bugs from Irish farms.

On the concerning side:

•There is overriding worry over the lack of new medicines coming on stream. Rick Clayton, of IFAH-Europe, the EU body representing animal health firms, told the APHA meeting that five years ago more than 60pc of EU veterinary medicine authorisations were new products. Today, this figure has fallen to 10pc. The vast bulk of current authorisations are for generics as the patents run out on existing products.

•The cost of product registration is driving niche veterinary medicines off the market.

•There is still no single EU market for assessing and authorising vet medicines. This can result in herd owners facing huge penalties if they purchase a product across a State border.

•The threat from mastitis is growing as measured by the proportion of herds exceeding the 400,000 cells/ml somatic cell count. Finola McCoy, of AHI, told the meeting that the proportion of herds over the 400,000 cells/ml ranged from 15pc to 24pc over the year but is rising from year to year.

•A fly-on-the-wall examination of milking parlour routines indicate that teat dipping, as practised, is woefully inadequate, with only 10pc of teats receiving the correct disinfectant level.

Overall, the Irish veterinary medicine market continues to grow. Figures given at the APHA meeting now put the total market at €134m a year compared to €108m four years ago. In the past year, the large animal sector accounted for 78pc of the market versus 19pc for companion animals. Both sectors have grown at the expense of equine product sales.

Prescribed medicines now account for 53pc of all sales.

Vets and veterinary shops are gaining market share. Compared to 10 years ago, the veterinary share of the animal health market has grown from 44pc to 55pc. The licensed merchant share has also grown, from 17pc to 19pc. This rise has been at the cost of co-ops, down from 24pc to 15pc, and pharmacists, down from 12pc to 8pc.

In the past decade, there has been major mergers of animal health manufacturers. This has given MSD Animal Health the lion's share of the Irish market. This company is followed by Pfizer, Bimeda, Meriel, Novartis, Boehring Vetmedica, Norbrook and Vetoquinal, while Galway-based Channelle is now in 10th place.

A major review of veterinary medicines is under way with the EU. This time around, the EU Parliament will have a joint decision with the Council.

While some efforts will be made to simplify the legislation, there is also pressure to remove some widely used antibiotics and cephalosporins, such as Baytril and Marbocyl, from the animal health market. There is also huge pressure to ban all in-feed medication.

To encourage research into new molecules, it is likely that patents will be extended significantly beyond the current terms of eight years and 10 years. A similar move will be made for products used in minor species.

IFAH-Europe is pressing for its 1.1.1 regime (1 Data Dossier, 1 EU Scientific Assessment and 1 EU Product Authorisation) for each product across the EU. With the 1.1.1 regime, we would finally have a single market for animal medicines.

PS: Some of the hulks playing in the Rugby World Cup reminded me of an incident from my playing days. Us Country Lads were playing a city team. Our tough-as-teak loosehead prop went down in pain. "Call a doctor," said an onlooker. "Tis a vet you need for that animal," said another.

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