Antibiotic use in dairy cows

MEPs have struck a blow in the battle to tackle the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance by voting in favour of new rules curbing the collective and preventative use of antibiotics in farm animals.

The draft plans to update veterinary medicine legislation were endorsed by a majority of MEPs in a plenary session of the European Parliament last week, with the new rules set to be debated by the European Council during the next few months and potentially becoming EU law later this year.

Under the new rules, MEPs want to prohibit the purely preventive use of antibiotics, restrict collective treatment to very specific cases, prohibit the veterinary use of antibiotics that are critically important for human medicine and put an end to online sales of antibiotics, vaccines and psychotropic substances.

All farmers, animal owners and traders will be obliged to apply the principles of good animal husbandry and prudent use of veterinary medicines.

“With the World Health Organization warning us that the world risks drifting into a post-antibiotic era, in which antibiotic resistance would cause more deaths each year than cancer, it is high time we took energetic measures and grasped the problem at its roots”, said French MEP and special rapporteur Françoise Grossetête.

“The fight against antibiotic resistance must start on farms… Thanks to these measures, we hope to reduce the amounts of antibiotics found on consumers’ plates,” she added.

The draft EU legislation also includes measures to stimulate research into and the development of new medicines. These would include, for example, longer periods of protection for technical documentation on new medicines, and commercial protection of innovative active substances.

The proposed new rules come amid increasing concerns over the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance within the food chain.

A major UK government-backed report by commercial secretary to the Treasury Jim O’Neill and a European Food Safety Authority report both recently warned the use of antibiotics in agriculture represented a “critical threat” to public health, while scientists discovered bacteria resistant to “last resort” drug colistin in several countries including the UK at the end of last year.

The European Commission has also pledged to monitor the actual use of animal antibiotics in member states and regularly publish comparable data.