31 July 1998

MAFFsantibiotic smokescreen

By Shelley Wright

ORGANIC champion, the Soil Association, has dismissed MAFFs "seemingly reassuring" statistics on antibiotic residues as a smoke screen to hide "far more serious problems of antibiotic resistance".

But the allegation has been dismissed by animal health firms trade body NOAH, which has accused the association of a "cynical and opportunistic attempt to denigrate British farmers and the continuing success of Britains residue monitoring system, simply for the commercial gain of their members". Last week, the governments Veterinary Medicines Directorate published its annual report showing that of the food samples tested, 99.5% were clear of residues.

But Richard Young, the Soil Associations policy and campaigns co-ordinator, said: "The publication of antibiotic residue data has become an annual farce which allows ministers to pretend that farm use of antibiotics is under control when it is not.

"We are facing a potential farming and public health crisis which could make BSE look like a storm in a teacup." A national monitoring programme for antibiotic resistance in farm animals was needed urgently, he added, blaming routine, low-level use of the drugs for disease prevention and growth promotion in intensive systems.

But NOAH director, Roger Cook, said his organisation was most disappointed to find the Soil Association using the drug residue results, which proved the care with which vets and farmers used animal medicines, as an excuse for "yet another attack on the government, British food and farming and the use of antibiotic growth promoters." Mr Cook added: "It is important to remember that the Soil Association represents organic farmers who, for years, have sought to justify the high prices they demand for their products by criticising the produce of conventional British farmers. They have a vested interest in maintaining public anxiety about British food."

And he insisted that, despite growing international concern, there is no proven link between the use of growth promoting livestock antibiotics and the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance in human medicine. &#42