Parliament considers use of animal antibiotics

Members of Parliament held a debate on the inappropriate use of antibiotics on farms on Wednesday this week.

In the debate, Conservative MP for Richmond Park Zac Goldsmith spoke of the effects antibiotics had when overused on farms. He said that many in the health profession were talking about antibiotics being over-prescribed by doctors and, as a result, people were more aware of the effects of their use in people.

He then quoted doctors and MPs as well as the previous Health Secretary Andrew Lansley as saying the UK government was right to instigate measures in the way doctors prescribed antibiotics. But of the use on farms, Goldsmith said: “There has been virtually nothing from the government that could in any way encourage vets and farmers to be similarly prudent [with the use of antibiotics].”

Government figures

Goldsmith also pointed out that an analysis of government figures carried out by the Soil Association showed that between 2000 and 2010, there had been an 18% increase in the use of antibiotics on individual farm animals in the UK. Goldsmith, who led the debate, explained that, as a result, there was a death warrant for the future patient caused by the general overuse of antibiotics.

Furthermore, he pointed out that recently published data from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) showed that sales of fluoroquinolones, which are a broad spectrum of antibiotics used to treat serious bacterial infections in animals, had increased dramatically.


According to Goldsmith, the use of fluoroquinolones on animals was now 70% higher than in 2000. He also pointed out that the particular antibiotic was first licensed for use in the UK poultry sector in 1993. Previous to this, he said, there was no registered resistance of campylobacter, which is the most common cause of food poisoning, in people who had not been treated with the antibiotics. “However, in 2007 almost half – 46% – of the campylobacter food poisoning cases caused by the most common strain were resistant,” he added.

It was also noted by Goldsmith that, in 2008, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said a major cause of human exposure to fluoroquinolones resistant by food appeared to be from poultry.

No conclusive evidence

Health Minister Anna Soubry, however, argued that there was no conclusive scientific evidence that food-producing animals formed a reservoir of infection in the UK and food should, therefor, not be considered a major source of infections resistant to antibiotics.

In response to Soubry's statement Policy Advisor for the Soil Association Richard Young said: "The Government is factually incorrect and morally irresponsible to claim the evidence is inconclusive and then use this as an excuse for inaction. There is an international scientific consensus that farm animals form a major reservoir of antibiotic resistance in food poisoning bacteria and there is now overwhelming evidence that they also contribute significantly to a number of other serious resistant infections in humans, particularly those caused by non-food poisoning forms of E. coli.

“The Minister quoted the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s work on monitoring antibiotic residues, which we accept is of a high standard and important, but she failed to mention the UK does not routinely monitor antibiotic resistance in E. coli, enterococci or Staphylococcus aureus on farm animals."

British Poultry Council

In light of the debate, British Poultry Council (BPC) chief executive Peter Bradnock said it was good to see Parliament starting to discuss “such an important and complex issue”. Bradnock said: “As reflected in the 2011 VMD report on antibiotics sales, antibiotic use on poultry farms is decreasing. As an active member of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance, the British poultry industry promotes responsible use of antibiotics for poultry according to strict veterinary assessment.”

Bradnock added that the BPC agreed with a statement made by the Health Minister Anna Soubry about the scientific consensus on veterinary use of antibiotics not being a significant driver for human multi-resistant infections. He said: “Scientific evidence increasingly recognises that the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans comes largely from the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Nevertheless, the poultry sector recognises the essential need to use antibiotics safely and responsibly.”


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