MEPs vote to limit antibiotic use in livestock

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Animal health European union Eu

A European Parliament committee yesterday voted to ban collective and preventive antibiotic treatment of animals, while also backing measures to encourage research into new medicines.

Members of the Environment and Public Health (ENVI) Committee backed by 60 votes to 2 votes an amended version of a draft report put authored by the EU Commission in 2014, which proposed a revision of the existing rules on medicinal products for veterinary use in the EU. 

The draft report clearly defines the conditions under which veterinary medicine professionals are permitted to prescribe and sell antibiotics.

The entire EU Parliament is likely to put official adoption of the proposals to a vote during the spring plenary in Strasbourg.  

Rapporteur, French MEP, Françoise Grossetête, said the new rules, if adopted, would enable better control of the use of antibiotics in livestock and thus reduce the risk that potential resistances will emerge.

Today’s vote is a big step forward for animal health and the fight against antibiotic resistance.​ 

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 said.

The rapporteur is also in favour of a list of critical antibiotics reserved exclusively for human consumption, provided that the list is based on solid scientific criteria. 

The ENVI committee said compromise amendments have been negotiated and agreed among the political groups covering the main political aspects of the file, in particular, the harmonisation of the requirement for a veterinary prescription and recognition of prescriptions across countries in the EU and the reduction of the use of antibiotics.

Prophylactic use 

The MEPs argue veterinary medicines must not serve to improve performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry, and they want to limit prophylactic use of antimicrobials to single animals and, then, only when fully justified by a veterinarian.

The politicians also said that treating a group of animals when one shows signs of infection must be restricted to clinically ill animals and to single animals that are identified as being at a high risk of contamination, in order to prevent bacteria from spreading further in the group. 

In addition, they want livestock producers to use stocks with suitable genetic diversity, in densities that do not increase the risk of disease transmission, and to isolate sick animals from the rest of the group. 

To encourage research into new antimicrobials, the MEPs called for incentives, including longer periods of protection for technical documentation on new medicines, commercial protection of innovative active substances, and protection for significant investments in data generated to improve an existing antimicrobial product or to keep it on the market.

Resistance to widely used antimicrobials, such as ciprofloxacin, was commonly detected in bacteria in poultry, according to a report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)​last week.

Stakeholder reaction 

The EU Platform for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Animals (EPRUMA) emailed us a statement in reaction to the ENVI vote:

“We welcome the European Parliament Environment and Public Health Committee’s efforts to ensure an increased availability of veterinary medicines and support innovation in animal health.

"The availability and responsible use of medicines are intertwined, and EPRUMA partners continue to work together to disseminate and encourage the implementation of best practice in the use of all veterinary medicines including antibiotics.”

According to EPRUMA, the responsible use of veterinary medicines is based on a holistic approach of minimizing disease. This includes a wide choice of tools such as biosecurity, good housing and ventilation, good hygiene, appropriate nutrition and robust animals, regular monitoring of animal health and welfare, animal health planning, use of diagnostics, vaccination and using and maintaining the pharmacovigilance system when necessary, as well as the use of veterinary medicines, as required by law. 

Monique Goyens, director general of the EU consumers’ organisation, BEUC, also endorsed the vote.

She said antibiotic resistance is threatening medical advances: “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.” 

Dutch call

Dutch Minister for Agriculture, Martijn van Dam, speaking at a conference on antimicrobial resistance organized as part of the Netherlands’ EU Presidency last week, called for EU countries to strongly reduce medically important antibiotics in livestock farming.

He also pointed out the importance of a joint approach: “We need not only cooperation between the health and veterinary sectors, but also between countries.“

Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner Health and Food, and Maria Helena Semedo, vice-director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), also participated in the conference in Amsterdam.

The event, which was for a large part a closed meeting, is the prelude for the separate EU Council meetings involving the EU ministers for health and agriculture later this spring.

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