20 November 1998

Antibiotic use as growth promoters set to be banned

By Philip Clarke

A WIDE-RANGING ban on the use of certain antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed is looking increasingly likely, despite recent Brussels assurances that each product would be judged purely on scientific grounds.

Commission proposals, presented to the EUs Standing Committee for Animal Nutrition, suggest four products – virginiamycin, tylosin, zinc bacitracin and spiramycin – should be banned from Jan 1, 1999.

These substances account for about 80% of the antibiotics used in pig and poultry rations throughout the EU, say industry sources.

Even though scientific investigations are still on-going, the commission plans to introduce the bans as a "precautionary principle". There is a suspicion that these antibiotics, which are also used extensively in medicine, could be linked to developing resistance to antibiotics in humans.

Roger Cook, director of the National Office of Animal Health, says the plans are premature, with a whole raft of scientific opinion, both in the UK and Brussels, due in the next few months. It would be wrong to come to any policy conclusion until this information is available, he says.

A ban would also burden pig and poultry farmers with additional costs. "We all know the perilous state of the pig industry at the moment. The last thing we need is more expense."

Each £1 spent on antibiotic feed additives saves £6 in additional feed costs, he claims.

EU farmers would also face tougher competition from abroad, as the commission proposal does not apply to imported pigmeat.

The NFU has also questioned the validity of the proposed ban, in the absence of any fresh scientific evidence. "If there is no problem with the science, we should still have access to antibiotics, so long as they are used responsibly," says animal health advisor, Peter Rudman.

Meanwhile, Brussels-based industry body, FEDESA, warns that an antibiotic ban would increase prices to consumers, create more disease problems in animals and would lead to an extra 7m cubic metres of manure (including 78,000t of nitrogen) to be disposed of in the EU.

But, even though the commission may struggle to make the Jan 1, 1999 deadline, the view is Brussels that the proposals will be accepted, with manufacturers given six months to clear the supply chain. &#42