A high profile MP has warned that Britain could enter a “frightening post-antibiotic age,” if the use of antimicrobials on intensive pig and poultry farms is not curtailed.

Speaking at a private members’ debate at Westminster, Zac Goldsmith called on public health minister Anna Soubry to “lobby vigorously” for a ban on all routine, prophylactic, and non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.

He also called for a ban on administering fluoroquinolones to poultry, and for the government to give “significant consideration to the to the use of antibiotics on farms and to the link between farm use and resistance”.

Mr Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park, claimed that legislative control of antimicrobials had been “routinely ignored” in agriculture. Resistance strategy was “focused exclusively on over-prescribing by doctors, with zero mention of antibiotics in the livestock industry,” he said.

This, he attributed to the “vested interest” that agribusiness had in using antimicrobials, saying that it had a “disproportionate impact on policy”.

“Antibiotic use on farms is increasing not decreasing, so despite the initiatives and efforts we have heard about, the trends are heading in the wrong direction.”
Zac Goldsmith

But Ms Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, said that the government and industry had a number of controls in place to encourage the responsible use of antimicrobials, citing the British Poultry Council’s (BPC) voluntary ban on the use of fluoroquinolones in day-old chicks, and the ban on advertising antimicrobials to farmers as examples.

She also said that animals were not considered a major source of infections resistant to antibiotics in humans.

Despite this, Mr Goldsmith said “Antibiotic use on farms is increasing not decreasing, so despite the initiatives and efforts we have heard about, the trends are heading in the wrong direction.”

The BPC welcomed the debate in Parliament, but argued that the 2011 Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s annual report on antibiotic sales indicated that their use had gone down, not up.

“The industry is steadfastly committed to the highest standards of antimicrobial stewardship in the treatment of diseases in UK poultry production. We are at the forefront of education on the issue and we will continue to engage pro-actively with the government,” a BPC spokesman said.

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