As the Veterinary Medicines Directorate marks the first anniversary of its internet retailer scheme, the British Veterinary Association and others insist it needs to be mandatory.

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) is being called on by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and animal health organisations to rethink its Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme (AIRS) as it celebrates its first birthday.

Websites accredited to the scheme get to display this logo.The scheme – launched in May last year as a way for UK-based online veterinary medicine retailers to voluntarily self-regulate – now has 25 accredited websites representing 23 businesses, a result the VMD insists it is very pleased with, despite admitting the first year of the scheme had been a “valuable learning experience”.

However, Peter Jones, president of the BVA, has renewed the association’s calls for the scheme to be made compulsory – although the VMD insists Government policy dictates regulation as a last resort.

“When the VMD launched the scheme last year, BVA welcomed it as a very positive step in protecting the public from illegal sites and to give animal owners confidence they are buying safe products for their animals and themselves,” he said. “At the time we also called for the scheme to become compulsory and at the VMD open meeting in November (2013) [it] committed to keeping the idea of a compulsory system under review.

“As VMD marks the end of the first year of the scheme, we would urge it to take this opportunity to conduct such a review.” Mr Jones believes the review should consider a scheme code of conduct.

Ian Scott, secretary general of the Animal Health Distributors Association, also called for the scheme to be compulsory while insisting there was not enough consumer awareness of its aims.

“Considering the lack of consumer awareness, the VMD has done well to attract the current accredited internet sites,” he said. “Consumer awareness about the scheme and benefits of using an accredited site must be raised to reward the ‘good guys’.

Ian Scott said the VMD has done well to attract the number of sites it has to the scheme, but still insists it needs to be compulsory.“Ultimately, it will take consumer pressure to bring the missing UK operators into the scheme and that would take a lot of expensive publicity from the VMD. Surely, despite the reluctance for more regulation, the simplest and fairest solution would be to accredit all UK sites.”

In reaction, the VMD said it had “no plans” to make the scheme compulsory as “it is Government policy that to bring about change, different ways should be considered“.

“As part and parcel of effective oversight of our policies, the VMD will review the scheme at periodic intervals to ensure it continues to meet its objectives,” it said. “In doing so, we will take on board all relevant issues, including those that have been raised by our stakeholders.”

The directorate added it was “fully aware” of the importance of public awareness, and that two veterinary practices now include wording advising clients to obtain prescribed medicines from AIRS-accredited sites if buying on the internet.

The directorate also said it had attended events such as Crufts and the London Pet Show to talk directly to animal owners about the scheme.

To read the full story by Rebecca Hubbard, see this week’s Veterinary Times: volume 43, number 26.

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