- Antibiotics are used in animal feed to
fatten livestock up for sale
- Four antibiotics widely used in animal
feed as growth promoters have been banned across Europe - in a move that
could cost the pharmaceutical industry millions of pounds a year.
- The ban, triggered by fears that continued
use of the antibiotics could reduce bacterial resistance in humans, was
endorsed by twelve EU agriculture ministers including the UK's Nick Brown.
- Mr Brown said the decision was necessary
on consumer health grounds.
- "These antibiotics are not dangerous
in themselves - but the scientific evidence gathered by the European Commission,
which parallels research work in the UK, is that human resistance to medicines
- No-one voted against the move - Denmark
and Sweden already ban the targeted drugs - but Belgium, Spain and Portugal
abstained. That left a comfortable qualified majority decision for a ban
which will be phased in over six months.
- In Britain, the four antibiotics - Tysolin
Phosphate, Bacitracin Zinc, Spiramycin and Virginiamycin - will be definitively
banned by 1 July, 1999.
- Mr Brown said he welcomed the decision,
but a backlash is now possible from farmers who benefit from the growth-promoting
properties of the drugs which are fed to pigs and poultry to fatten them
up for sale.
- The same drugs are used in humans to
counter illness, but it is now claimed that consumers absorbing the drugs
through white meat will be more resistant to their bacteria-killing effects
when taken directly.
- The main manufacturers of the animal
antibiotics, were said to be contemplating a legal challenge to the ban.
- Mr Brown said: "If there is legal
action it will be in the European Court of Justice and Europe stands ready
to defend its decision."
- Asked about claims from the pharmaceutical
industry that there is no scientific justification for the ban, Mr Brown
insisted: "The scientific advice that I have received is that the
Commission case is sustainable."
- Further bans possible
- Four other antibiotics similarly used
in animal feed in Europe are now being examined by EU experts and may also
be recommended for a ban, officials said.
- Fifteen other antibiotics have already
been banned in the EU for similar reasons.
- About 15% of all antibiotics used in
the 15 EU member states go into animal feed - amounting to some 1,600 tonnes
of antibiotics entering the human system via pork and chicken meals every
- Concerns remain that imported meat is
still coming into Europe from animals reared using the same drugs. Mr Brown
said it was a difficult trade issue and was now being studied by the Commission.
- Farmers were disappointed at the European
decision, claiming that it could give an unfair advantage to farmers who
use the growth promoting chemicals in livestock outside Europe.
- The National Farmers Union said on Monday
that it had been working with other food and agriculture organisations
to produce a viable strategy for the withdrawal of the drugs in animal
feed and had been hoping that their report could be finished before the
European vote was taken.
- Animal welfare concerns
- An NFU spokesman said: "It cannot
be denied that antibiotics have brought enormous benefits for animal health
and welfare for many decades. We are concerned that this ban will pose
serious welfare problems."
- The NFU explained that because of the
withdrawal of the antibiotics taking place over just six months they were
concerned about the effects on animals which had been fed on products containing
- The NFU said it was unaware of any scientific
justification for the ban but did not oppose it on those grounds.
- Instead it had wanted the drugs phased
out over a longer period to ensure that animal welfare standards were maintained
and the livelihoods of feed manufacturers maintained.
- However the ban was welcomed by the Consumers'
Association because of "the need to tackle the growing problem of
bacterial antibiotic resistance."
- A spokesman added that the association
was pleased that Mr Brown had adopted the "precautionary principle"
in a matter that had implications for consumer safety.
- US Group Calls For Antibiotic
Ban In Livestock
- NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- Farm ministers in the European Union (EU)
have voted to ban the use of four antibiotics in animal feed, and a consumer
advocacy group would like to see the United States do the same.
- The Center for Science in the Public
Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group based in Washington,
DC, issued a statement Tuesday urging the US Food and Drug Administration
to take similar action. The group also issued a report earlier this year
with the same message, namely that ''daily feeding of antibiotics to livestock
can cause bacteria to develop resistance'' to antibiotics, resulting in
difficult-to-treat human infections.
- The EU banned antibiotics in animal feed
due to the concern that their use could promote the development of such
antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The EU ban, which will take effect on July
1, 1999, applies to bacitracin zinc, spiramycin, virginiamycin, and tylosin
phosphate, as reported by Reuters Health on Monday.
- "The EU's ban on four antibiotics
used in animal feed is a sensible follow-up to the World Health Organization's
1997 recommendation that farmers stop feeding low levels of antibiotics
to animals destined for the dinner table,'' said staff scientist Patricia
Lieberman in a statement released by CSPI.
- "In the United States, almost one
third of all antibiotics sold are used to promote the growth of livestock,''
Lieberman noted. "...It's high time that the Food and Drug Administration
kicked livestock off the drug habit by banning agricultural uses of antibiotics
that jeopardize human health.''
- Current US Meat Testing Is
- DES MOINES, Iowa -- Meat inspectors say random testing for bacteria lets
carcasses zip past them carrying loads of fecal contamination.
- They also say relying on companies to
do their own testing isn't meeting the federal goal of zero tolerance of
fecal contamination. Inspectors told the Agriculture Department they are
overwhelmed. They say that, in many cases, carcasses go by at thousands
or more an hour.
- Inspectors say the new system is an improvement
over the old one. The old system relied almost entirely on detecting defects
by sight, smell or feel.
- But inspectors say the new system of
microbial testing leaves a large part of the responsibility to the companies.
- An industry group counters that meatpackers
have incentives to produce clean meat.
- Reports of discussions between USDA and
a meat inspectors union were published by the Des Moines, Iowa, Sunday