11 December 1998

Antibiotic restrictions are urged

ORGANIC farming promotion body, the Soil Association, has called for a ban on non-medicinal use of all antibiotics.

In its report, The Use and Misuse of Antibiotics in UK Agriculture, the association claims most of the 1225t of antibiotics used annually in the UK are used on farm animals. Farm use, when combined with the use in horses and pets, account for 62% of total use. By comparison, only 38% is used in human medicines.

The associations policy and campaigns co-ordinator Richard Young said there was increasing evidence that the use of antibiotics as growth promoters on intensive livestock farms was leading to antibiotic resistance to similar drugs in human medicine.

The use of two of the best-known antibiotics, tetracycline and penicillin, has increased by 1500% and 600% respectively in the past 30 years and that increased use could be linked to the rising number of outbreaks of untreatable salmonella infections in humans, he says.

Illegal use

The report also claims that as many as 10,000 UK farmers could be using antibiotics illegally.

Mr Young says producers have to be registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society before being allowed to top dress feed with antibiotic additives. But he says that only 7,000 of the 17,000 farmers known to be using antibiotics in this way have registered. As well as a ban on all non-medical use of antibiotics, the report calls for antibiotics to be used only in cases there is a genuine need.

It also recommends that vets charge directly for advice to farmers, reducing the pressure on them to recoup costs through selling antibiotics. And it wants veterinary colleges to attach greater importance on the teaching of drug-free preventative medicine.

But Roger Cook, director of the National Office of Animal Health, says the report amounts to an attempt to create public anxiety about conventional farming methods to further the Soil Associations agenda of increasing the number of organic farmers.

"Doing away with digestive enhancers leads to an increase in the number of animals dying, increases the output of slurry and increases feed use," he says.

"There are strong welfare and environmental grounds for keeping antibiotic digestive enhancers. Surely that is more in keeping with the Soil Associations philosophy of a sustainable agriculture."