EU strengthens law on livestock drug use

By Andrew Burnyeat

- Last updated on GMT

EU regulation governing the use of antibiotics on animals has been cautiously welcomed
EU regulation governing the use of antibiotics on animals has been cautiously welcomed

Related tags: European parliament, European union

A proposed new European Union (EU) regulation governing the use of antibiotics on animals has been welcomed with caution by farmers, medical practitioners and medicinal suppliers, after MEPs backed the law on 17 February. 

The European Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee backed beefed-up measures designed to tackle the alarming growth of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) within livestock to antibacterials. Members overwhelmingly backed amendments toughening original proposals made by the European Commission in 2014, including specific plans to require the collection, compilation and reporting of precise information about when, why and how antibiotics are used.

Measures now include a ban on pre-emptive (or prophylactic) use of antibiotics and the creation of a list of drugs for human use only. Online sales of antibiotics and prescription-only veterinary medicinal products will also be banned under the legislation.

The amended legislation will now go to a plenary session of the European Parliament for final approval in March or April. Changes will need to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers to be enacted.

While she broadly welcomed the vote, Amanda Cheesley, spokesperson for farming bodies Copa and Cogeca, drew attention to the lack of investment and lack of medicines in specific fields.

She said: “Copa and Cogeca believe it is vital to strike a balance between innovation, the availability of veterinary medicines and their affordability. More effort is needed to tackle the lack of investment and the lack of medicines to treat limited markets and we don’t feel the vote will fully address this.”

In the past, Copa-Cogeca has issued several opinions calling for tighter controls on the use of medicines, while recognising the severe threat posed to human and animal health by AMR.

Veterinarians and antibiotic suppliers were more upbeat, however. Jan Vaarten, executive director of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), said: “In general, we welcome the votes taken yesterday and, in particular, the emphasis on ‘prevention-rather-than-cure’ in terms of good husbandry and the key role of vets in prescribing antimicrobials.”

He welcomed the MEPs’ recognition of the need for rapid and reliable diagnostics and the proposals to ban online sales of antibiotics. He also welcomed a decision to maintain the right of member states to make their own dispensing decisions. There had been a proposal to reserve such decisions for EU institutions.

But Vaarten added: “We are concerned at the banning of certain antimicrobials. We would be happy to see stricter controls, but banning certain substances is a concern because if an animal is sick, it needs to be treated.”

Roxanne Feller, secretary general of the International Federation for Animal Health Europe (IFAH-Europe), said: “Overhauling this piece of legislation is an opportunity that only comes every 10 years or so and it is therefore of great importance not only for Europe’s animals, farmers and pet owners, but also for the health of its citizens and for the European agri-food sector.

“IFAH-Europe welcomes the efforts of the rapporteur and the members of the parliament’s Environment Committee in their review of the Commission’s proposal and strongly encourages further support for innovation and wider availability of all animal medicines for all animals and all member states.”

The MEP coordinating votes on the law at the environment committee (the rapporteur) Françoise Grossetête, a French MEP, said after the votes: “We have all worked very hard to achieve this result.”

Related topics: Meat

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