NFU accuses Soil Association of 'insensitivity'

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has accused the Soil Association of showing insensitivity to farmers, with its recent claims in the media that Defra is not taking the threat from a new type of antibiotic resistant E.coli on farms as seriously as it takes the foot-and-mouth and bluetongue diseases.

This follows a report in the Sunday Times and on last Monday's ITV programme Tonight with Trevor McDonald on the subject, in which the Soil Association accused the government of not thinking it "appropriate to place restrictions on any animals on the farms" suspected of E.coli.

An NFU spokesman said: "For the Soil Association to drag up a six-month-old story at a time when farmers are coping with the impact of the foot-and-mouth outbreak and the new threat of bluetongue is grossly insensitive."

The Soil Association said it believes the dramatic rise in humans from the ESBL E.coli stems from the high use of certain antibiotics in intensive farming and that the two classes of antibiotics effective against these infections, are not suitable in all cases. It added that 10-14% of people who catch an ESBL strain will die within 30 days.

Defra's response was that the scientific community was not aware of any evidence linking the use of antibiotics in animals to the development of ESBL resistance. It said: "The most likely cause of EBSL in animals is still considered to be contact (either direct or indirect) with humans. Further molecular analysis indicated that the E.coli strain conferring resistance in cattle is different to the serotype 025 strain that has caused disease in humans.

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