European Commission proposal,s published on September 10, for updating regulations on farm antibiotic use ignore advice from the Lancet Infectious Diseases Commission to phase out routine preventative use, according to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics.

The Alliance campaigns for a phase out or ban of the routine preventative use of antibiotics, when no disease has been diagnosed, in farm animals.

Alison Craig, Campaign Manager for the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said:: “The European Commission and the British government have both stated they don’t support the routine preventative use of antibiotics on farms, but both still back legislation which makes it legal.

“Antibiotic growth promoters are nominally banned in the EU. But the truth is that many of the same antibiotics can still be given to the same animals when no disease has been diagnosed. This is why, as the House of Commons Science and Technology recently said in their report on antibiotic resistance, the total veterinary use of tetracycline antibiotics has increased nearly tenfold and that of penicillin-type antibiotics has increased nearly fivefold since they were banned as growth promoters.”

“Governments and MEPs who are serious about avoiding the ‘apocalyptic scenario’ that the Chief Medical Officer has been describing, whereby people in the future may die from routine infections because of antibiotic resistance, must ensure that a ban on all routine use of antibiotics in farming is added to the Commission’s proposals”.

The Commission itself warns in its proposals that “the use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicinal products may accelerate the emergence and spread of resistant micro-organisms and may compromise the effective use of the already limited number of existing antimicrobials to treat human infections. Therefore the misuse of antimicrobials should not be allowed.”

Earlier this year, in a working document setting out guidance on farm antibiotic use, the Commission also said that “Routine prophylaxis [treating groups of animals not affected by disease] must be avoided. Prophylaxis should only be reserved for exceptional case-specific indications”.

This was in line with a recommendation from a Lancet Infectious Diseases Commission report published last year which said that “routine prevention with antimicrobials also used for treatment should be phased out.”

But despite the scientists’ advice and its own statements on the need to restrict antibiotic use, the Commission has decided to allow veterinarians to continue prescribing routine preventative doses of antibiotics to groups of intensively farmed animals, even when no disease has been diagnosed in any of these animals. The Commission proposes to ban using medicated feed for preventative purposes, but wants to allow the routine preventative use of antibiotics in animals’ drinking water to remain legal.

In the UK, over 85 per cent of antibiotics used on farms are used for treating groups of animals, mainly pigs and poultry. Many antibiotic products can be added legally to the feed or water of groups of healthy animals. The government has so far refused to take any action against routine preventative use, even though it says that it does “not support the routine, prophylactic use of antibiotics in animal health”

In addition, the government’s five-year strategy for dealing with antibiotic resistance contains no commitment to reducing farm antibiotic use, but has targets for reducing human antibiotic use.