Comment: Bills to reduce plastic waste threaten animal health

Reducing packaging waste is a good goal, but more exceptions must be made for animal medications.

By Paul DeMaris / For The Herald

Washington state is working to reduce waste through legislation that addresses the packaging on products coming into the state. As veterinarians, we applaud efforts that will positively deal with the amount of garbage and plastic we place in landfills.

However, if passed, both House Bill 1131 and Senate Bill 5154 set up an unpredictable process where drugs, vaccines and biologics meant to cure or treat diseases in pets and livestock will have to go through an approval process before they can be shipped to the state.

This is dangerous for the animals and people of Washington.

As veterinarians, we use more than 2,500 medicines licensed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep pets and livestock healthy. The companies that produce these medicines are committed to improved sustainability in all facets of the supply chain, including the packaging used to deliver safe products to customers. Many companies have already made changes to reduce unnecessary packing waste, such as replacing plastic foam packing needed to keep vaccines cold with reusable coolers.

Medical products for animals are required to be sterile or enclosed in packaging with tamper-resistant seals to protect public health. They must also have protection against biological contamination, physical damage and conditions that will alter the product. Packaging must protect the product, and the products, conversely, must not damage the packaging. Packaging must also accommodate detailed labeling requirements.

The proposed legislation exempts flea and tick medications from the EPA. And even after explaining the danger of not being able to get critical medicines in a timely manner, the latest amendments don’t exempt more than 1,600 drugs from the FDA. Legislators did exempt packaging that’s in direct contact with vaccines and biologics from the USDA. But that doesn’t help. If only primary packaging is exempt and not the total packaging, we could still experience disruptions in obtaining the critical medicines we need.

Consider these situations where immediate access to animal drugs, vaccines and biologics is critical:

• Common animal diseases; companion animals suffer from a range of diseases, e.g. autoimmune, infectious, metabolic and eye, to name a few, as well as zoonotic diseases that are passed to humans such as rabies or leptospirosis.

• Foot and mouth disease, a severe and highly contagious viral disease of livestock that carries a significant economic impact.

• African swine fever, a highly contagious and deadly viral disease that can devastate pig populations.

• Highly pathogenic avian influenza; the disease that is currently killing wild and domestic birds, including chickens and turkey in commercial egg and poultry operations.

In addition, we could be facing future global pandemics much worse than SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19. Continued access to vaccines and medications for all endemic or reportable diseases is critical to prevent disease, and to reduce or eliminate animal pain and suffering.

Animal health companies already must use appropriate packaging that will deliver safe products to patients and customers. Setting up a complex process to review packaging already approved and standardized for safety by two government agencies will delay access to critical products that protect the health and welfare of Washington’s animals, citizens and food supply.

In addition, Oregon, California and Colorado have already exempted animal drugs from similar packaging laws. Washington should be in line with other western states.

Protect your pets, your backyard chickens and the cattle on your farm. Tell members of the House Environment and Energy Committee and the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy and Technology to exempt all animal drugs from HB 1131 and SB 5154.

Dr. Paul DeMaris is affiliated with Alpine View Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish. He is past president of the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association.

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