While farmers advocate responsible use of antibiotics in animal production, further restrictions look to be on the way in the European Union.
Late last week, the European Parliament announced that the use of existing antimicrobial drugs should be restricted, and new ones should be developed, in order to fight the growing resistance of bacteria to today’s antibiotics. In a vote on draft plans to update an EU law on veterinary medicines, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) advocated banning collective and preventive antibiotic treatment of animals, and back measures to stimulate research into new medicines.
“The fight against antibiotic resistance must start on farms,” said rapporteur Françoise Grossetête. “We wish to prohibit the purely preventive use of antibiotics, restrict collective treatment to very specific cases, prohibit the veterinary use of antibiotics that are critically important for human medicine, and put an end to online sales of antibiotics, vaccines and psychotropic substances. Thanks to these measures, we hope to reduce the amounts of antibiotics found on consumers’ plates.”
“However, we need not reduce the therapeutic arsenal available to vets. This law aims to facilitate their work. It is absolutely necessary to encourage research and innovation in this sector,” she concluded.
Veterinary medicines must not under any circumstances serve to improve performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry, say MEPs, who advocate limiting the prophylactic use of antimicrobials (i.e. as a preventive measure, in the absence of clinical signs of infection) to single animals and only when fully justified by a veterinarian.
Farmer, co-op groups welcome move
To help tackle antimicrobial resistance, the revised law would empower the European Commission to designate antimicrobials reserved for human treatment, according to the European Parliament.
The associations representing European Farmers and European Cooperatives, Copa and Cogeca, generally welcomed the Parliament’s decision to update the law on the use of veterinary medicines.
“We welcome European Parliament’s vote, but we still need to wait some years before the first results will be in the market,” commented the associations’ Secretary-General, Pekka Pesonen. “We will evaluate the performance in terms of innovation (research and development of new active substances), availability of Veterinary Medicinal Products (VMPs) in all member states, for all species and all conditions and the affordability of VMPs in terms of bringing more competition to the market.
“Livestock farmers respect good animal husbandry principles and it’s our view that antibiotics must be used responsibly. We are members of the European Platform for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Animals (EPRUMA) and believe that antibiotics should be used ‘as little as possible, and as much as necessary.’ Banning the use of certain antibiotics for animals could lead for example to animal welfare problems, as in some places or for some species, these are the only authorized antibiotics.”
Disagreement on prophylactic use
Outlining key areas of concerns, Pesonen said the organization does not believe that a ban on the prophylactic use of antibiotics is justified.
“The responsible use of antimicrobials is crucial and although we realize that there needs to be specific requirements for food-producing animals compared to pets, the correct use of prophylaxis is a good veterinary practice,” he said. “We also have concerns on the online ban on antibiotics and prescription-only veterinary medicines. Online sales of veterinary medicinal products offer some advantages in terms of availability and the cost of medicines. Indeed, considering its crucial role, Copa and Cogeca believe that the proposal should be more precise about how to ensure the correct functioning of this distribution channel and the development of a safer online system in coordination with the competent national and European authorities.”