"The use of antimicrobials* in animals is an important factor in the development of resistance in some organisms, particularly those organisms associated with food poisoning in man"
The UK's Veterinary Medicine Directorate, 2010
* The term 'antimicrobials' includes antibiotics and synthetic drugs such as the penicillins and fluoroquinolones which are effective against some micro-organisms, especially bacteria.
The proposed advertising ban
In June 2010, the UK's Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD) proposed a ban on direct advertising of antibiotics to farmers by pharmaceutical companies. The VMD was concerned that such marketing may encourage the overuse of new antimicrobials of vital importance in human medicine, without considering the dangers of an increased risk of antimicrobial resistance.
This advice had the support of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), and also several independent organisations concerned to promote sustainable food and farming including:
- Compassion in World Farming
- The Soil Association
- Sustain: the Alliance for Better Food and Farming
We must stand strong
Defra appears to have caved into pressure from industry and farming press lobbyists and has rejected advice from its own expert body to come into line with the rest of Europe. This means that the farming press will not be free of antibiotic advertising by powerful multinationals.
In an announcement on 30 December 2010, Defra ignored these independent experts and instead has pleased the drug companies and some in the farming industry by allowing direct advertising of these drugs to farmers.
Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming said:
"Vital medicines such as antibiotics should be used to treat the sick, be they human or animal. Their overuse in farm animals has contributed to the serious problem of resistance to antibiotics in the human population and has also acted as a prop to factory farms where hundreds of pigs or thousands of chickens may be kept in unhealthy, overcrowded conditions and their vulnerability to infection masked by inappropriate use of important, life-saving drugs."
3 reasons why Compassion are disappointed
Increasing resistance to antimicrobials is a serious global problem. In recent years, bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have become concerned about the rise of antibiotic resistance in farm animals, and the extent of the transmission of resistant bacteria to humans which is believed by some experts in the Netherlands to be connected to levels of MRSA in humans.
Around half of the world's antibiotic production is used in food animals (Nathan, 2004). But commonly these are used in pig, poultry and dairy production not to cure but to suppress infections that are likely to arise in factory farm conditions.
In a survey of 10 European countries, the UK was found to be the third-largest user of antibiotics per kg of slaughtered pigs, poultry and cattle and of live dairy cows (Grave et al. 2010). Moreover, the use of fluoroquinolones and the modern cephalosporins, classed by WHO as 'critically important in human medicine' was shown in 2008 to be at its highest level in the UK for a decade. This could be partly linked to the amount of advertising of these products: there has been a noticeably higher level of advertising for the modern cephalosporins in the farming press than for the fluoroquinolones, and there has been a correspondingly greater increase in their sales.
Read more on the use of antibiotics in farm animals and human health.
Food free from unnecessary medicine
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