Industry defends farms over use of antibiotics

Agriculture experts have hit back at criticism over antibiotic use on farms, calling for stronger regulation within human treatment.

The NFU, Bpex and the 
Responsible Use of Medicine in Agriculture alliance (RUMA) have said legislation should focus more 
on doctors’ prescriptions than on farm animal treatments to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Reacting to a call by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), The Soil Association and Sustain to reduce antibiotic use on farms by 50% by 2015, RUMA said: “The report misses a great opportunity to help highlight the importance of both medical and veterinary practitioners working together to help preserve the 
efficacy of antimicrobials for both human and animal health.

The organisation stressed the rarity of transfers of resistant 
bacteria from animals to humans, and the importance of antibiotics 
to maintain food safety standards. 
“Safe food comes from healthy animals and antibiotics are 
essential to treat bacterial 
infection in Britain’s farm animals and pets, as they are for people,” RUMA added.

The NFU re-asserted its commitment to tackle AMR, but said the imposition of legal controls on the use of antimicrobials in animals would not solve the problem in humans. “This is a disproportionate response to the precautionary principle and is resulting in policy that is not evidence-based,” an NFU spokesperson said.

The NFU’s vice-president Gwyn Jones pledged to help Europe solve the issue after being elected vice-chairman of the Copa Animal Health and Welfare Working Group a few days ago. “But we must also put the issue into perspective,” he said. “There is a far greater problem in human medicine with the over-use and misuse of antibiotics. We must therefore ensure the spotlight is not disproportionately focused on livestock farmers and that any new regulations are evidence-based and science-led.”

Bpex, a member of the RUMA alliance, said the industry was aware of its responsibilities in relation to antibiotics, but added that antimicrobial treatments were used in compliance with EU rules, and only to treat animal diseases. “However, it is still important for livestock producers to be prudent with antibiotics and to be transparent with the public about their efforts to responsibly use them,” the organisation added.

Earlier this month, the European Commission unveiled an action 
plan aiming to reduce AMR by promoting appropriate use of antibiotics in all member states, as well as strengthening the regulatory framework on veterinary medicines and medicated feed.

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