UK Legislation Threatens to Change Medication Policy

Legislation is under consideration in the United Kingdom that would drastically affect the way horse owners obtain medications such as dewormers for their horses. Amendments to the legislation would require a veterinary prescription for the supply of all medicines (including dewormers and over-the-counter products such as sweet itch treatments or insecticide shampoos) for food-producing animals, according to an announcement by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA), an association of United Kingdom companies. Under current European Union (EU) legislation, horses are defined as food-producing animals.

Currently, medications sold in the UK are classified in one of three categories:

  • Prescription-only medications (POM), available only through a veterinarian;
  • Pharmacy and Merchants List (PML) items, available through registered, authorized retailers who are approved by someone specially trained for authorizing sales; and
  • General Sales List (GSL) items, including certain insecticide shampoos, wound dressings, and other treatments available over-the-counter.

Mark Collins, BVSc, CertEP, CertESM, MRCVS, Senior Vice President of the British Equine Veterinary Association, said, "At present, horse dewormers can be obtained through vets, tack shops, and pharmacists; do not need a prescription; and they are classed under the PML category. The EU under the review 2001 is wanting to make it so that all drugs supplied to food-producing animals can only be obtained with a veterinary prescription."

The BETA is one of seven equine trade and regulatory associations united under the Animal Health Alliance, which was formed in 2001 specifically to challenge the proposals. BETA has been lobbying against these changes and the Alliance has submitted an amendment that, if accepted, would allow the UK to continue to offer medications in a way similar to the existing system.

Claire Williams, Chief Executive Secretary of BETA, said, "If the legislation goes ahead, horse owners would lose the convenience of being able to buy their dewormers and other routinely used medicinal products from their local retail saddler and be faced with the real possibility of increased prices as competition declines." She stressed that this might lead to a decline in the equine welfare level as frequency of treatment diminishes. The industry is also very concerned about a loss of up to 3,000 jobs as a result of the changes.

"It is now vital that the equestrian industry and horse owners themselves make their support of the status quo clear and highlight the negative effects the proposed changes would have on them, their horses, and their livelihoods," said Williams. The changes would "impose a degree of over-restriction which could result in illegal trading and a reduction in competition and choice," she added.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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