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By Catherine Hughes
ANTIBIOTICS should be banned as growth promoters in farming to prevent the spread of drug-resistant bugs, according to the House of Commons agriculture select committee.
It calls for a ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, and tighter restrictions on their use in preventing or treating diseases in livestock.
"We consider the evidence of transfer of antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms from animals to humans through food to be approaching conclusiveness," the report said.
The results were potentially so serious that "we favour a ban on the use of antibiotics in farming as growth promoters, and tighter restrictions on their use for subtherapeutic and prophylactic purposes."
The committee said food safety has never been far from the forefront of political and public consciousness. Yet, the combined efforts of central and local government, and all those involved throughout the food chain, have failed to reduce the incidence of food poisoning or to increase public confidence in the safety of food, it said.
The report shows that the number of food poisoning cases throughout England and Wales had tripled between 1987 and 1997. Last year, there were 180 reported cases for every 100,000 people.
But the NFU said antibiotics play a vital role on animal welfare grounds, highlighting the case of Sweden, where a ban on antibiotics has since resulted in their increased use after large numbers of animals fell ill.
Animal health firms representative group, NOAH, said it was astonished by the strong wording of the report.
Roger Cook, director, said the animal health industry, together with veterinary and farming sectors, fully support the call for prudent use of antibiotics. However, he said stringent legislative controls already exist and that industry has a long history of self-regulation and co-operation with EU and UK authorities.
However, the feed trade body UKASTA is keen to adopt a more proactive stance.
UKASTA director Jim Reed said it was time for the industry to find out exactly what the consumer wanted. And if that meant a ban on certain in-feed antibiotics then so be it. But Mr Reed said that objective talks between industry, consumer bodies and vets were needed to arrive at a common-sense approach.