9 June 1995

Growth promoter fears are dismissed

By Shelley Wright

FEARS over the safety of growth promoter Avotan have been dismissed by manufacturer Cyanamid.

Avotan, an antibiotic growth promoter commonly used in intensive pig and poultry production, has been banned in Denmark because of fears that it is linked to antibiotic resistance in humans.

But Cyanamids technical manager, Dr Tony Mudd, dismissed the research, on which the ban is based, as "limited and preliminary". He insisted avoparcin – the active ingredient in Avotan – posed no risk to human health.

"Further support for this can be found in more than 30 years of extensive scientific research and successful and safe use of avoparcin from around the world," he said.

"Banning safe products is an irresponsible move, undermining the credibility of leading regulatory authorities who have extensively researched and developed criteria to ensure the safe development and use of essential products."

The research, on humans and chickens, was conducted in Germany and Denmark. The results showed that strains of enterococci, a common bacteria in the intestine, had become resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic increasingly used in human medicine.

This antibiotic has a similar chemical structure to avoparcin and the scientists concluded that the resistance to vancomycin must have originated from the use of avoparcin in farm livestock.

Explanation rejected

But Cyanamid rejected this explanation. Dr Mudd said the high levels of vancomycin used in human therapy could be responsible for the resistance to the product in both humans and animals.

His views are confirmed by scientists at a German agricultural research institute. They insist there is no evidence in the research findings to suggest that avoparcin poses any threat to human health.

"Cyanamid continues to believe, along with the UK and EU authorities, that avoparcin is a safe and effective performance enhancer. And we intend to oppose vigorously, and campaign against, the decision in Denmark," Dr Mudd said.

The Danish authorities now have about two months to provide data to the European scientific committee to justify their unilateral ban on Avotan. If they cannot then they must reverse the ban or face legal action.