- The National Consumer Council (NCC) claims
the use of antibiotics on farms is reducing their effectiveness to treat
life-threatening human illnesses while the use of pesticides, nitrates
and animal feed concentrates also raises question marks over the safety
- Its report calls for a radical overhaul
of farm practices and policies - including the EU's Common Agricultural
Policy - to put public health at the heart of the food chain.
- But the paper has been criticised by
farmers and scientists, who say it is inaccurate, alarmist and could spark
an "unjustified food scare".
- The report, called Farm Policies and
Our Food: The Need for Change, says the use of antibiotics on farms, to
speed up growth and prevent infections among animals bred intensively,
could encourage the development of resistant bacteria which cause both
animal and human illnesses.
- There is also concern about antibiotic
residues left behind in meat and consumed by people.
- Pesticides, which can impair the human
immune system and lower resistance to cancer, are increasingly being found
deeper inside fruit and vegetables rather than just on the skin.
- And the NCC warns that excessive use
of fertilisers could lead to residues of nitrates in produce or contamination
of water supplies.
- 'Radical overhaul' of government policy
- The report calls for the ban on mammalian
meat and bone meal being fed to cattle, sheep and goats to be extended
to all animals, and a continuing ban on the use of growth hormones in meat
- The NCC pins the blame for the problems
it identifies on agriculture policies which it says encourage farmers to
increase output at the expense of other concerns. It suggests a "radical
overhaul" of the Common Agricultural Policy across Europe, and more
guidance for farmers to change the way they work.
- The NCC director, Ruth Evans, said: "Over-intensive
farming methods led to the BSE-CJD crisis. So long as we reward high output
rather than high quality of food, further risks are likely."
- The NCC is an independent body set up
by the government to represent the interests of consumers of goods and
- Farmers attack 'alarmist' report
- Farmers criticised the report and accused
its authors of basing their arguments on European data which were not necessarily
applicable to food production in the UK.
- The president of the National Farmers'
Union, Ben Gill, said it also ignored the enormous progress made by UK
farmers recently to meet consumer concerns.
- "Farmers take food safety very seriously
which is why the NFU has supported the concept of the Food Standards Agency
and the development of farm assurance schemes," he said.
- "British produce is routinely tested
for residues and has an excellent track record - the last thing farmers
need are more alarmist claims at a time when the industry is facing a dramatic
downturn in farm incomes."
- The director of the National Office of
Animal Health (NOAH), Roger Cook, said the NCC should have checked its
facts before criticising British farmers, especially as it was an organisation
supported by the tax payer.
- He said the use of antibiotics and chemicals
by farmers was controlled by regulation and was vital for production and
the safeguarding of human health.
- "It is particularly regrettable
that an organisation supported by the British tax-payer is apparently seeking
to inflame public anxiety while ignoring all the many good things being
done by the Government to protect the public and restore confidence in
British food," he said.