Veterinary chemicals, the law and you
Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992 (Excerpt)
What are veterinary chemicals?
Veterinary chemicals are drugs or medicines used to treat or prevent disease, injury and pests in domestic and stock animals*. Examples include vaccines, antibiotics, worming treatments, lice, flea and tick treatments and some vitamins.
Safe and effective
Before being used in Australia, veterinary chemicals must be assessed for safety, effectiveness and quality.
This process is managed by the federal government's Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and includes the approval of critical label information such as species to be treated, dose rate, frequency, method of administration (e.g. drench, pour-on or injection) and withholding periods (WHPs).
The process assures users that, when used according to the label directions, the product should work well and not harm the user, the animal or the environment. Importantly, it should also protect our markets from unacceptable chemical residues in products derived from treated animals.
* Stock animals are defined as any animal of which any part is used as, or manufactured into food for humans, and includes bees, fish and birds.
How can I use them?
Victoria's Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992 and Agricultural and Veterinary Chemical (Control of Use) Regulations 2007 define how veterinary chemicals can be used.
These controls aim to protect chemical users, the public, the environment, treated animals and Victoria's market access by prohibiting chemical use practices that pose an unacceptable risk.
Veterinary chemicals fall into two categories: 'over-the-counter' and 'prescription animal remedy' products.
'Over-the-counter' products are veterinary chemicals that can be readily purchased from most veterinary chemical retailers and rural merchandise stores. Examples include vaccines, worm drenches and lice treatments.
By law, farmers treating major species (i.e. cattle, sheep, pigs or chickens) with an 'over-the-counter' product must use a product that is registered for the intended purpose, or obtain written authorisation from a veterinary practitioner to use the product contrary to the label directions.
'Over-the-counter' products are permitted to be used off-label^ to treat minor species (e.g. goats, alpacas, turkeys ect), however care must be taken to minimise the risk of unacceptable chemical residues occurring.
^Off-label use refers to situations when a registered chemical is used in a manner that is not specified on the product label.
When using 'over-the-counter' products, farmers must not use the product:
- at a higher rate than that stated on the label
- more frequently than stated on the label
- contrary to a specific label statement.
Farmers are also not permitted to sell treated stock animals before all WHPs have expired unless the purchaser is advised of this in writing.
'Prescription animal remedy' products
'Prescription animal remedy' products, such as antibiotics, are legally available only from a veterinary practitioner for animals under his/her care.
'Prescription animal remedy' products must only be used according to the directions provided by the dispensing veterinary practitioner.
A 'prescription animal remedy' dispensed for one purpose cannot be used for any other purpose without the written permission of the veterinary practitioner.
A veterinary practitioner cannot dispense 'prescription animal remedy' products to treat animals unless:
- the client is a bona fide client with records to prove this
- the veterinarian has established a therapeutic need, and
- the veterinarian has responsibility for and current knowledge of the health of the animal/s.
When treating stock animals with a 'prescription animal remedy', and no ongoing treatment is required, veterinary practitioners must provide the farmer with a written advice note containing the same information that is required on the product label. This enables the farmer to keep the appropriate chemical use records.
Farmers must not use agricultural chemicals to treat stock animals unless authorised in writing by a veterinary practitioner.
A withholding period (WHP) is the minimum time that must elapse between the last use of a veterinary chemical product and the sale of the treated animal or any produce derived from it (e.g. milk, eggs, honey or wool).
All veterinary chemicals intended for use in stock animals have a WHP statement on the product label.
Withholding periods are designed to ensure that food and fibre derived from treated stock animals does not exceed the Australian maximum residue limits (MRLs) when the product is used according to label directions.
Where products are used off-label, the veterinary practitioner will provide written advice on the appropriate WHP.
If the veterinary chemical is used according to the label directions, any residues will be under the Australian MRL once the product's WHP has expired. A list of WHPs for veterinary chemicals can be found on the APVMA website: www.apvma.gov.au.
Export Slaughter Interval
An Export Slaughter Interval (ESI) is the period of time that needs to elapse between treating an animal with a veterinary chemical and slaughter for export.
This interval minimises the risk that meat and by-products bound for export markets may contain unacceptable chemical residues and jeopardise Australia's valuable overseas markets.
Export Slaughter Intervals for veterinary chemicals are listed on the APVMA website www.apvma.gov.au.
The legislation also requires farmers to keep certain records when treating stock animals with a veterinary chemical product that is classified as a 'prescription animal remedy' or any animal health product which has a WHP. When using any of these products, you must make the following records:
- product trade name
- species of animal
- location of the animal
- identification number (if known) or description of the animal
- date/s the animal was treated with the product, and
- quantity of the product used for each treatment.
These records must be made within 48 hours of using the veterinary chemical product and kept for two years from the date of use.
Any extra records needed to meet Livestock Production Assurance or other quality assurance program requirements should also be kept. These may include the product's expiry date, batch number, WHP/ESI, and the date it's safe to slaughter.