THE SHADOW Secretaries of State for Defra and Health, Kerry McCarthy MP and Heidi Alexander MP, have written an open letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Defra Secretary Liz Truss, asking them to respond positively to proposals for reducing the overuse of antibiotics in farming.
Two related regulations are currently under consideration by the European Parliament, one on veterinary medicines, the other on medicated feed.
The shadow secretaries’ letter comes after the European Parliament voted to strengthen EU legislation on veterinary medicines earlier this month, supporting proposals to ban collective and preventative antibiotic treatment of animals, restrict use of existing drugs and work to develop new antibiotics.
The proposal gained the support of 95% of MEPs. However, animal welfare and environment groups have expressed concern that some MEPs, backed by farm industry groups, have sought to “water down” the proposed changes.
Also in March, the EU Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (AGRI) voted to allow group treatments of animals without any requirement to restrict such use to a case-by case basis, or to adopt measures to promote animal health and minimise disease, in voting on the issue of medicated feeds.
The AGRI Committee has also voted to open negotiations with the Council and Commission, which campaigners fear may result in an agreement being reached on the medicated feed proposal before its counterpart proposal on veterinary medicines, and the less ambitious regulation prevailing. EU farm group Copa Cogeca has openly opposed the proposed
EU-wide ban on preventative use of antibiotics in farming, saying: “the correct use of prophylaxis [purely preventative antibiotic use] is a good veterinary practice.”
Vets groups have also claimed that vets ‘play a crucial role in fighting antimicrobial resistance.’ Responding to the EU Plenary vote on the EU’s veterinary medicines law, a spokesperson for the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe (FVE) said: “FVE remains concerned about the idea to ban certain antimicrobials for use in animals. FVE fears that a complete ban will lead to serious animal health and welfare issues.”
However, Emma Rose of the campaign group Alliance to Save our Antibiotics said: “The rise of antibiotic resistance requires urgent action, and means that reductions are needed in use in all sectors, human medicine and livestock farming.
“We therefore strongly welcome the Parliament’s attempt to ban routine preventative antibiotic use but are concerned that it may prove ineffective if loopholes are introduced which allow business as usual to continue.”
Rose said: “Regulators also need to realise that significant improvements to animal health and welfare are required to truly reduce farm antibiotic use. Intensive farming systems inevitably have high disease levels – this is part and parcel of keeping animals in crowded conditions – which leads to the overuse of medicines like antibiotics.
“There is overwhelming evidence that more extensive, health-orientated farming systems have much less need for antibiotics.
“The UK Government has already outlined its opposition to routine preventative use. It now needs to back up its words the European Parliament’s attempts to introduce an effective ban.”