MEPs want to restrict farmers’ use of antibiotics in healthy animals

“Why should an animal take medication if it isn’t sick?" asked Monique Goyens. [Suzette/Flickr]

The use of existing antimicrobial drugs on EU farms should be restricted particularly when these are used as preventive measures, lawmakers urged yesterday (17 February).

In a vote on the draft plans to update the EU’s law on veterinary medicines, the members of the European Parliament’s Environment and Public Health Committee advocated to ban collective and preventive antibiotic treatments of animals.

Instead, the lawmakers want to stimulate research into new medicines so that new and better drugs can be developed.

“With these new rules, we can better circumscribe and control the use of antibiotics in farm animals and thus reduce the risk that potential resistances will emerge,” said French MEP Françoise Grossetête (Les Républicains).

Antibiotic resistance looms as serious threat to health

Intestinal bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics have been detected in animals, humans and food in Germany. Experts fear future health problems if steps are not immediately taken. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“The text will also help to improve the availability of medicines and drive innovation forward, so as to expand the therapeutic arsenal available to vets. I welcome the broad consensus on this report, which should promote public health and consumer protection,” she added.

The Parliament vote tightens a European Commission text that regulates animal medicines as the food safety MEPs said that veterinary medicines must not under any circumstances serve to improve performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry.

Using antibiotics for a single farm animal as a preventive measure should likewise only be possible after a green light from a veterinarian.

In the draft report adopted by the Committee, the MEPs also say that incentives to develop new antibiotics and medicines need to be set up, for example by

Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections, but misuse and overuse on farm animals can spur a resistance and spread to humans in many ways, but most likely via food intake.

Threatening scientific advances

In some countries, more antibiotics are used in animals than in humans, according to a report by several EU medicinee and food safety watchdogs.

Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), applauded the outcome of the committee vote. She said that antibiotic resistance is threatening great medical advances, such as surgery, and chemotherapy.

Romania in public health scare

A severe digestive infection has struck infants and children in Romania, with two fatalities recorded so far. Bucharest hopes these are not the first days of a serious public health crisis. EURACTIV Romania reports.

“We will only win this fight if we slash the use of antibiotics both in humans and in farm animals. The only way forward is for every single European country to apply the same strict rules,” Goyens said.

“Why should an animal take medication if it isn’t sick? Giving antibiotics to perfectly healthy animals feeds antibiotic resistance. This detrimental, routine practice must end now if we want our drugs to keep saving lives. If they fail to work, a simple finger cut could become serious, and even life threatening,” the BEUC chief warned.

All members of the European Parliament will vote on the ENVI Committee’s report on the use of antibiotics in farm animals in the plenary in April or May.

25,000 Europeans die each year from antibiotic resistance, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Many more suffer from its consequences. As member states are free to set their own rules voluntarily some perform better than others. In Denmark, the amount of antimicrobials – including antibiotics – given to farmed chicken slumped by 90% in 13 years.

In Norway, vaccination and improved fish health management helped antibiotic use in fish farming to almost disappear in less than 20 years.

  • April/May: The European Parliament to vote on the ENVI Committee's report on the use of antibiotics in livestock.

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