29 April 1998
MPs call for a ban on farm antibiotics
By Catherine Hughes and Boyd Champness
ANTIBIOTICS should be banned as growth promoters in farming to prevent the spread of drug-resistant bugs, says the House of Commons agriculture select committee.
The all-party committee today released its report on food safety. 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
Last week, the House of Lords science and technology committee warned that pre-antibiotic illnesses such as tuberculosis, meningitis and pneumonia were on the increase because of overuse of antibiotics in the community. It blamed the medical profession as well as farmers for irresponsible overuse.
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.
About half the antibiotics used on British farms are given to animals, mainly chickens and pigs, to promote their growth rather than their health.
The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH), is astonished by the strong wording of the report, particularly as it was not invited to give evidence to the committee.
Roger Cook, director, said: “The whole question of antibiotic resistance is the subject of international scientific debate, and there is a European scientific review of growth promoters already under way and an EU Commission antibiotic sensitivity scheme due to be completed by the end of 1999.”
“But the select committee chose to speak out on this complex topic without obtaining evidence from those involved,” he said.
Mr Cook 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.