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An antibiotic win: EU Parliament votes to save our antibiotics

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A breakthrough for human and animal health

After years of campaigning and lobbying, we are delighted to report that EU Parliament has voted to end the overuse of antibiotics in farming. This legislation will ban the preventative mass medication of groups of healthy farm animals.

For years, factory farming has been propped up by the prophylactic use of antibiotics. Farming accounts for about two thirds of all antibiotics use in Europe. Without the overuse of routine antibiotics, farmers and the industry will need to re-think husbandry methods and adopt healthier and more sustainable farming practices.

Cóilín Nunan, Campaign Manager for the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, of which we are a founding member, says: “This is a hugely important breakthrough for human and animal health and is by far the more serious attempt that Europe has ever made to achieve responsible antibiotic use in farming.”

The UK post-Brexit 

Unfortunately, the UK Government may choose to allow preventative mass medication to continue. This landmark legislation will only come into force in 2022, post-Brexit, and Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that during the negotiations over the regulations, the UK “did voice concerns about the restriction of prophylaxis to individual animals”.

The UK Government says it intends to implement the provisions of the new legislation, but refuses to accept that the EU legislation bans preventative group treatments Michael Gove said that the Government will “work constructively with stakeholders to agree how these restrictions can be implemented in practice,” which suggests that there is no guarantee the UK will in practice ban preventative group treatments.

Cóilín says: “The Government must commit to banning preventative group treatments. The latest data shows that the UK farming industry is making good progress in reducing its antibiotic use, and the poultry industry has even voluntarily banned group prevention. If the government rejects the EU ban, the UK could end up with some of the weakest regulatory standards in Europe, which will raise questions about the kinds of trade deals we will be seeking with non-EU countries that often use much higher levels of antibiotics in farming. Importing low-quality meat produced with high levels of antibiotics will inevitably undermine UK progress.”

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when organisms develop mutations that render antibiotics ineffective. The World Health Organization has called for ‘critically important drugs’, those that treat human diseases when nothing else is effective, to be banned for use in livestock. Until now, countries failed to follow this advice.

It is important to note that this new legislation does not prevent sick animals from being treated, nor does it discount those individual animals that are high-risk for an infection from being administered antibiotics in order to prevent the infection from developing. The key point here is that individual animals will be treated, as opposed to treating a herd of cows with antibiotics through their feed or water.

A long awaited victory

Our CEO, Philip Lymbery says: “This is a long awaited victory. We have been campaigning for years for the adoption of farming practices that prioritise animal health and welfare, reducing the need for antibiotics in the first place. And to save our antibiotics for unhealthy people who desperately need them, not healthy animals who don’t.”

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is an alliance of health, medical, civil society and animal welfare groups campaigning to stop the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming. We founded it in 2009 alongside the Soil Association and Sustain. Our vision is a world in which human and animal health and well-being are protected by food and farming systems that do not rely on routine antibiotic use.