Dáil Éireann - Volume 412 - 13 November, 1991

Adjournment Debate. - Veterinary Medicine Sales from Vans.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): I hope to give a minute of my time to Deputy McGinley who will be arriving shortly.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

[1572] Minister of State at the Department of Transport and Tourism (Mr. Lyons): To sympathise with his colleague.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Perhaps.

Mr. Lyons: Justifiably, since he has a lot for which to be thankful.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): In raising this matter I want to make it quite clear that I hold no brief whatsoever for people who deal in illegal drugs where farming is concerned. Indeed, I would contend that no penalty is sufficiently severe if such people set out to damage our beef industry. Nonetheless, in these circumstances it would appear to be a question of using a sledge hammer when a smaller implement might have been just as useful. We are talking of very genuine people who earn their living under licence and who are being branded as criminals.

I can understand the effort to put an end to any dangerous practices being perpetrated but there could be nobody more obvious on any road than some person in a van. In this age of massive unemployment, with many skilled people having lost their jobs, surely it would not be difficult to deploy extra inspectors to keep an eye on such people? I feel very concerned for the plight of people who have spent considerable amounts of money building suitable rooms close to their homes where they can store drugs and who can no longer keep them, or who may have invested in vans, finding their livelihood abolished because this general plan has been introduced leaving them with nothing. We must remember there are families depending on them and that we have much unemployment. Therefore, I contend this is overdoing it.

I would appeal to the Minister to take another look at the matter, to go for the black sheep, but not to include everyone in that category because there are too many decent men involved who have devoted almost a lifetime to this way of life.

Mr. McGinley: I thank Deputy [1573] Browne for having allowed me share his limited time. I support everything he has said. There are people nationwide, in my county also, who have engaged in this business for many years, bona fide traders. I do not think anybody would accuse them or suspect them of pushing substances that would be illegal in any way. We all agree with the campaign of the Minister and his Department to give our beef industry the best possible name. We must depend on that good name if we are to sell our produce abroad.

In replying would the Minister indicate whether it is his intention in the future to allow people apply for licences to establish businesses at a fixed place? I am aware that according to the relevant regulations people who are in the business are allowed to take orders at home and deliver medicines in their vans to various parts of their region. Is it the Minister's intention to allow such people apply for licences to establish, for instance, new businesses at marts or other areas where farmers congregate so that they can get the product they seek without too much trouble or hassle?

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. J. Walsh): I thank Deputies Browne and McGinley for raising this important matter for those representing rural constituencies. I am well aware of the circumstances to which they refer and know at least two reputable van salesmen. The position is that the Animal Remedies (Prohibition of Certain Sales) Regulations, 1991, to which both Deputies referred, come into operation on 1 December. The regulations, which apply to all animal remedies, prohibit save under licence the following activities:

(1) The sale by mail order or from a travelling shop, vehicle or an automatic vending device, or

(2) The making of visits from house to house for the purpose of soliciting, collecting or obtaining orders for any such remedy.

The regulations do not apply to any visits [1574] for the purpose of soliciting or collecting orders when such visits are made to persons at their respective places of business and the persons who are so visited are lawfully entitled to sell the animal remedy for which the order is sought. Notwithstanding the licensing possibility, there is an absolute prohibition on the sale of an animal remedy from other than a fixed premises. Therefore, it is not possible to issue licences for sales from vehicles, travelling shops and so on.

The reasons for the introduction of the regulations were twofold. First, under a recently adopted EC Directive it is necessary to introduce a system whereby all outlets engaged in the retail supply of veterinary medicines are specifically authorised and strictly controlled by the authorities in the member state. To comply with this requirement arrangements for the introduction of a comprehensive licensing system are in hand. The type of controls required mean that only permanent fixed premises will meet the criteria for such authorisation. The new regulations are a first step in this direction.

Secondly, the role of van salesmen in the distribution of illegal drugs has received widespread attention. It is extremely difficult to monitor the activities of mobile outlets and this fact has been greatly abused by many engaged in this line of business. In addition to selling totally prohibited substances these persons have also engaged in the supply of prescription only medicines such as antibiotics. Strict regulations were introduced in 1986 to confine the availability of these products in order to prevent indiscriminate use. In order to protect public health it is necessary to ensure that these substances are used responsibly and only where absolutely necessary in food-producing animals. It is a regrettable fact that nearly half of the successful prosecutions taken for breaches of veterinary medicines legislation related to the illegal supply of controlled or prohibited substances by van salesmen. I am satisfied that this new legislation will further strengthen the ongoing campaign against the illegal use of veterinary medicines.

[1575] Two other concerns arise from the supply of veterinary medicines by vanmen. All veterinary medicines must be produced to the highest standards of quality in order to ensure safe and effective use. The guarantees of the safety, quality and efficacy given by the authorisation system are dependent on the proper handling and storage of the medicine prior to use. Many van salesmen carry medicines in their vehicles from the time they take delivery to the time of sale.

During this period medicines may be subject to extremes of temperature which at the least may result in loss of potency but more seriously they may deteriorate to form dangerous compounds. There is also the hard-sell aspect whereby farmers are induced to purchase and use unnecessary medication. Quite apart from consumer concern arising from over-use of medicines, farmers do not need to be forced into incurring additional input costs.

I know to my own certain knowledge at least two van salesmen in my immediate area who are highly reputable and give a very good service. A good service has been given to farmers over the years by their local salespersons. This is particularly true in the case where farmers wish to place an order to have goods delivered at a later date. For this reason I am prepared to issue licenses for the purpose of visits from house to house to solicit or collect orders subject to the following conditions: the representative may have no animal remedies with him in the course of his duties; the order will be taken in the form of an offer from the farmer to purchase the animal remedies; the order must be returned to a fixed premises for acceptance, and the animal remedy must be delivered to the farmer by a means of distribution which does not involve the use of the representative collecting the orders. I will be issuing application forms for such licences to all persons who have inquired about them.

I should add that the regulations do not prohibit the delivery of orders taken [1576] at a fixed premises. No licence is necessary for such deliveries. The regulations only apply to the sale of animal remedies and do not affect the sale of other products direct to farmers. I would hope that a reasonable and equitable resolution of this problem can be brought about.