Botswana beef could be banned from the lucrative European Union market again – two independent veterinary bodies have warned.
The Botswana Veterinary Surgeons Council and the Botswana Veterinary Association have raised a red flag against amendments to the Medicine and Related Substance Act of 2013 which they argue is inconsistence with international standards.
The Council is appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and a representative from the Botswana Veterinary Association sits in the Council.
In a letter addressed to the Department of Veterinary Service in September 2016, the Registrar of Botswana Veterinary Surgeons Council states that “On the 2nd February the Council submitted proposal changes to the Medicine and Related substance Act of 2013, unfortunately up to date the Council have not had a feedback on the proposal.”
Issuing a warning about the possible action that EU may take against Botswana, the Council states that: “It is this view that the Council is making a follow-up on this issue, especially considering the serious implications on the livestock sub-section and practicing of veterinary medicine.”
In its letter dated 2nd February, the Council states that during a stakeholder consultation workshop of December 2015 on the Medicines and related Substance at (MRSA) of 2013 draft regulations, veterinarians raised issues on particular sections of the Act, “which are not in line with international practices such veterinarians not being allowed to dispense medicines for animals under their care.”
The Council also raised an issue with giving prescription and dispensing unlimited authority to para-professionals “and where prescription or dispensing of medicine is done by authorised trained persons other than veterinary surgeons such persons have to do so under supervision of a veterinary surgeon.
In addition the Act is likely to compromise the practice of a veterinary medicine therefore compromising on issues of animal and public health and welfare.
“It was subsequent to this that veterinarians were advised to submit their proposed changes. It is in this regard that the Council submits the proposed changes which were done in consultation with both veterinarians employed in the public service and private sector,” the Council warned.
The Department of Veterinary Service stated in replay, that the proposal by the Council has been submitted to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture “whose response will provide guidance on the way forward.” The Department of Veterinary Services has been designated by the EU as Botswana’s “Central Competent Authority” (CCA).
Section 38 is the most contentious section within the Act, explained a representative of Botswana veterinary association Benjamin Radihepi is
“We only heard from the gravipine that the Act is in full force without our input. What we are saying is that we do not see EU being happy to continue with business the problem being that para-professionals would be custodians of drugs,” he said. He explained that para professionals include among others, assistants to professional veterinarians and livestock advisors who are not defined by the Veterinary Act.
“As it is, it presents a danger to our beef. Should they (EU) be aware of the law that governs drugs or that dug regulation allows para-professionals to dispense or even administer them then we are going to be in trouble,” he warned.
Sunday Standard has turned up information showing that the draft for the amended Act was done by the Ministry of Health while the Ministry of Agriculture did not have much input.
“The other problem with this Act is that the Ministry of Health did their work and it seems the Ministry of Agriculture slept on the job,” said Radihepi. He said only veterinarians are trained to diagnose and dispense drugs adding that pharmacists are not trained on veterinary pharmacology.
“What Section 38 says is that we should have in house pharmacists. But throughout the world, that is not the case. It will be only in Botswana where in house pharmacists dispense drugs,” he said. Radihepi said the Ministry of Health drafted the amendments looking only at human pharmacist and not considering veterinarians.
“We sent the Ministry of Agriculture our amendments to incorporate into the Act but they didn’t. They overlooked the practicality as far as how we work is concerned. There was no stakeholders’ engagement from the Ministry of Agriculture,” he said.
Radihepi added that “We needed veterinarians to say that our practice impinges on national economy. Drugs should be controlled by people trained in them. This is just an omission by the Ministry of Agriculture. We are still consulting on what could be other options,” he said suggesting that the issue is likely to come before court.
He added that “the Cattle industry is at risk. The Ministry of Agriculture should have accepted that it made a blunder and they let Parliament to pass such an Act into law,” he said.
According to Radihepi, they were shocked to learn that a board for the MRSA was constituted despite some contentious issues that the veterinarians wanted the Ministry to address first.
The issue came to the fore recently when Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Shenaz El-Halabi and Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Keoagile Molapong were instructed by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to establish which Ministry drafted the controversial Act.
The duo told PAC that the two ministries had participated in the enactment of the Act. PAC member Reggie Reatile had expressed concern that the amended Act could put Botswana’s beef at risk.
“Do you think this matter will be explained easily and whether the EU will understand,” he asked.
Nchunga Nchunga of the Attorney General was asked by PAC Chairman Abraham Kesupile to state his department’s position on the matter.
“I have to acknowledge that there is a valid issue that the honourable member is raising. One needs to dig and find out. Currently I don’t have background information on this; whether this has been brought to our Drafting Division and what needs to be done about it,” he said.
Nchunga added that the Attorney General Chambers would “get to the bottom of this and put it to rest.”
Molapong said a board had been constituted to provide advice on issues related to the Act. “The board will handle that as a matter of urgency,” he said.
Radihepi paid tribute to PAC for raising the issue emphasising that the country’s beef industry is at risk.
EU banned beef from Botswana in 2011 due to inadequate quality, hitting hard the country’s beef exports and lifted the long export ban in 2013.