Most of us will, at some time, have been unlucky enough to have needed treatment with an antibiotic - an extremely valuable type of medication for treating infections caused by bacteria. Unfortunately however, over time bacteria and other microorganisms develop the ability to resist the effects of an antibiotic to which they were once sensitive and the supply of new antibiotics is quickly becoming exhausted.
All antibiotics are a type of ‘antimicrobial’ and last month MEPs voted to ban the routine use of these on healthy farm animals because this may be hampering the fight against ‘antimicrobial resistance’ - now a major concern to the future health of both humans and animals. In the EU, 25 000 people die each year from an infection due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If the current trend is not altered, 300 million people worldwide are expected to die prematurely because of drug resistance over the next 35 years. In Europe we are already seeing the impact of increasing antimicrobial resistance, for example with some of the world's highest rates of multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis.
The overuse of antimicrobials in human medicine is the main driver of antimicrobial resistance but both the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation believe human resistance stems in part from misuse and overuse of antimicrobial products in animal health. The continued widespread use of antimicrobials on European farms not only raises animal health and welfare concerns, but also represents a serious real threat to humans.
Healthy animals farmed in hygienic conditions do not need routine doses of antimicrobials to prevent disease and keep their meat and milk safe for consumption. Only animals raised in industrial conditions are dependent on their routine prophylactic use. Labour MEPs believe that medicines should not serve to improve performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry; when we take good care of our animals we don't need to fill them with antibiotics.
We have to safeguard the efficient use of antibiotics not only in healthcare settings, but also in farms. Hazardous bacteria do not respect borders. New rules on medicated feed will harmonise standards across Europe and ensure responsible use of medicines, especially antibiotics. It is not just the national authorities, patients and physicians that need to be on board, but also veterinarians, farmers and consumers. We need to reduce the purely preventive use of this medication and restrict collective treatment to very specific cases as well as prohibit the veterinary use of antibiotics that are critically important for human medicine. In last month’s vote as well as voting to restrict the routine use antibiotics on healthy animals Labour MEPs also backed measures to stimulate research into new medicines. The revised law would also empower the European Commission to designate antimicrobials which are to be reserved for human treatment.
Labour MEPs are opposed to compromising the public health in the interest of profits of industrial farming enterprises and believe that these medicines should never be used as an alternative to maintaining good standards of animal welfare.