Clash over threat to antibiotics

13 July 2001

Clash over threat to antibiotics

THE NFU and the Soil Association have clashed over the EUs expected move to extend its ban on antibiotic growth promoters.

The union claims there is no science supporting their withdrawal, but the Soil Association is stepping up its campaign for banning antibiotic growth promoters avilamycin, flavophospholipol, monensin and salinomycin.

Research from the Danish Vet Laboratory demonstrates the dangers of using anti-microbials in animal feed, says the Soil Association. These studies show that since antibiotics were banned in Denmark six years ago, resistance of the gut bacterium Enterococcus faecuim to the antibiotic avoparcin declined from 73% to 6%.

But NFU vet and public health adviser Peter Rudman questions the research. "It does not prove resistant bacteria levels increase in livestock fed antibiotic growth promoters. Instead, it shows a reversal in their susceptibility to avoparcin.

"There is a subtle difference between resistance and susceptibility. Resistance is not reversible whereas susceptibility is. Furthermore, it does not prove that antibiotic resistant bacteria in pig and poultry guts will result in superbugs, risking human health."

It is also highly unlikely that any resistant bacteria would be transferred to people. Any ban must be backed up with good science. Currently the evidence is based on taking one piece of evidence to prove something else, he adds. "Until direct evidence is available, the NFU will fight to retain these products." In the event of a ban being introduced, there must be a minimum withdrawal period of nine months to allow animals to adjust, according to a spokesperson for the Responsible Use of Medicine in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA).

"Swedish experience found clinical problems when antibiotics were withdrawn overnight. This is because bacterial populations in the gut are readjusting and rapid changes can lead to increases in disease causing bacteria."

Guidelines for their withdrawal would be drawn up by RUMA and include alternative strategies. "There are other substances and management techniques that can help producers overcome the reduction in performance," says the spokesperson. &#42

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