Industry to fight ban on antimicrobial adverts

Plans to stop the advertising of antimicrobial products to farmers have been slammed on the grounds it could leave producers in the dark about tackling key animal health issues.

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate has launched a consultation on whether to restrict the direct marketing of antimicrobials to the veterinary profession.

The VMD has said the promotion of antimicrobials to professional keepers of animals – such as farmers – can lead to pressure on vets to prescribe new products which provide economic benefits, even though older products might be a better clinical choice.

It has claimed that this can lead to the premature development of resistance to a new generation of antimicrobials.

Catherine Mclaughlin, NFU animal health and welfare adviser, said the planned move was a concern because it would lead to a loss of knowledge transfer.

“Antibiotic resistance is an issue we take very seriously – but there is no evidence of a link between growing resistance and the amount of information farmers have at their disposal,” she said.

The adverts run by companies had a role in educating people about new disease threats and how drugs should be used, she said.

This enabled farmers to have more informed conversations with their vets. “There is a worrying potential to lose an important source of knowledge transfer,” she said.

The National Office of Animal Health agreed that the banning of advertising of antimicrobials to farmers was unlikely to reduce resistance profiles.

NOAH chief executive Phil Sketchley said: “We need a holistic approach to all medicine use and by that we mean responsible promotion, responsible prescribing and responsible use of all medicines including antimicrobials.

“Farmers do need to be kept well briefed on the medicines they use.”

The consultation runs until 10 September. The VMD has said the ban will bring the UK into line with the rest of the EU which has already banned antimicrobial advertising.

Farmers Weekly comment

“Plans from DEFRA to ban the advertising of antimicrobial products to farmers are as insulting as they are ridiculous.

The whole proposition on which these plans are based is that, by stopping animal health product manufacturers from advertising their wares, farmers will somehow use less “inappropriate” treatments and this will help reduce the presence of antibiotics in the human food chain.

Clearly reducing human resistance to antibiotics is a worthy objective. But there is not one jot of evidence that farmers using such treatments to combat animal illness has made the situation worse. And there is not one jot of evidence that banning advertising will make the situation somehow better.

The other claim that government and its agencies have made is that, as a result of advertising, farmers have been able to put pressure on vets to prescribe those antimicrobials that offer the greatest economic benefit, rather than those which offer the greatest welfare benefit.

What utter nonsense. That suggestion is an insult to farmers’ status as professional keepers of animals, and is far removed from the reality where farmers and their vets work together to decide on the most appropriate treatments.

The fact is that advertising antimicrobials is a key part of information dissemination, often helping to make farmers aware of the symptoms of certain diseases and the correct ways of applying the products.

For the past 12 years, animal health companies have signed up to the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), helping vets and farmers to reduce the use of antimicrobials unless necessary. There is also a strict code of practice when it comes to advertising and, last year, the National Office of Animal Health launched a Use Medicines Responsibly campaign to encourage vets and farmers to do just that.

The real driver behind this proposal, it seems, is the desire to put the UK on the same footing as other member states in Europe.

There also seems to be an unseemly rush to achieve this, with the consultation put out by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate in late June, with a closing date of early September and an intended start date of 1 December. At the very least the industry needs more time to consider the implications of the proposed changes, and to implement any changes in practice.

It would also be a welcome change to see the new coalition government taking a firmer stand in Brussels and try to defend the status quo which, unlike this proposal, is based on sound science and common sense.”