4 June 1999

EU scientists push for end of AGP use

By Philip Clarke

ALL remaining antibiotics used as growth promoters in animal feed should be phased out as soon as possible, according to the EU Commissions scientific steering committee.

The scientists believe their use in intensive livestock production contributes towards the growing problem of human resistance to antibiotics.

Even though no direct link has been established, the committee recommends an immediate reduction in the "inappropriate" use of antibiotics. Currently there are just four products left in free circulation – avilamycin, bambermycin, monensin sodium and salinamycin.

But parallel changes in animal husbandry practices are also needed, to maintain stock health and welfare. "The phase-out process must be planned and co-ordinated," the scientists say.

As well as calling for reduced use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine, and plant protection, they also suggest that, as an added precaution, the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes in genetically modified crops should stop.

The commission is expected to act quickly. "The current absence of clear causal links between amounts of antimicrobials used and the development of resistance should not be taken as an excuse for avoiding urgent action," said a statement this week.

But manufacturers representative body, Fefana, says a ban is premature. "An in-depth study is underway in six EU countries involving tens of thousands of bacterial samples. It is illogical to start phasing out at this time." Without a proper scientific evaluation, a ban could lead to increased pig and poultry mortality, as occurred in Sweden in 1986, it claims.

An extended ban raises the prospect of a trade war with the US. Currently there is no bar on imports of US pigmeat produced with antibiotics, even though four other products, (virginiamycin, tylosin, zinc bacitracin and spiramycin), are already banned in the EU.

The commission is due to report to farm ministers in July on what to do about imports, though it seems unlikely they will be allowed to continue when EU farmers are prevented from using growth promoters.

Further legal action from manufacturers is also thought likely. Cases have already been brought against the commission by two pharmaceutical companies – Pfizer and Alpharma – on the grounds that bans have been imposed without scientific justification.

The first hearings were held in the European Court last April and a judgement is expected shortly. &#42