Owners could face the prospect of wormers becoming prescription-only under radical new plans proposed by the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

The proposal has been prompted by vets who are “increasingly alarmed” at the growth in resistance within populations of grazing animals.

But opponents say the proposal will lead to greater costs for owners, which may deter some from administering the drugs at all.

The BVA is calling on the veterinary medicines regulator to classify all anthelmintics (wormers) as POM-V — meaning they can only be prescribed by a vet, rather than by vets and suitably qualified persons (SQPs), as at present.

There are some 5,000 SQPs in the UK, working in tack shops and country stores.

But parasite experts cite their distribution of the drugs as one of the main reasons for the dangerous levels of resistance to wormers, as SQPs do not have the same level of expertise as vets.

Resistance is a major problem that must be addressed if the livestock industry is to avoid a potentially disastrous situation,” said BVA president Peter Jones.

“Anthelmintics should only be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon who has the animals under their care and based on sound clinical diagnosis.”

But the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) said it was “surprised”, labelling the proposals a “step backwards” for the equestrian industry.

“If the BVA was successful in its call, not only would the UK’s 450,000-plus owners need to seek veterinary advice when wishing to worm, the additional consultation fee may deter some from undertaking treatment,” said a spokesman.

But British Equine Veterinary Association president Keith Chandler added: “A restriction on the supply of anthelmintics would delay the development of resistance, giving scientists time to develop medicines to combat the dreadful diseases worms can cause.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (7 March 2013)