Ministers deliver animal welfare verdict on antibiotics

By Andrew Burnyeat

- Last updated on GMT

Antibiotics should be used responsibly, says Copa-Cocega
Antibiotics should be used responsibly, says Copa-Cocega

Related tags: Animal welfare, European union, Livestock

MEPs have voted to adopt an EU regulation harmonising animal welfare rules, with a key goal of toughening up the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The measures will place an increased onus on farmers to practice good husbandry that helps prevent disease outbreaks.

A plenary session of the European Parliament (EP) voted today (Tues) to endorse rules which replace 39 pieces of legislation on animal welfare passed over the last 50 years that MEPs have said were “outdated”​.

Avian flu

They impose duties on farmers to practice good animal husbandry. Diseases the legislation aims to tackle include avian flu and foot-and-mouth disease.

Swedish liberal Jasenko Selimović, the MEP coordinating votes on the subject (called a ‘rapporteur’), speaking at Monday’s debate before the vote was taken, said: “This is the first law that links animal welfare with public health under the new ‘one-health’ approach to tackle diseases that can affect both animals and humans. We are now better prepared to tackle outbreaks in the future.”

He said the draft law clarified and simplified the rules and were proof that the EU could cut red tape.

Italian socialist MEP Michela Giuffrida hailed the measures, claiming they had “finally managed to ensure animal health”​. “A poorly treated animal can never be a healthy animal. Animals are too often tortured and this is too often ignored.”

Approved overwhelmingly

The move followed a debate at the parliament’s agriculture committee last month where the measures were approved overwhelmingly.

Selimović argued that as a result of checks intrigued under the law: “It will now be very difficult to mask poor animal husbandry through the use of antibiotics.”​ He added that it would also promote the sharing of scientific knowledge to produce new antibiotic veterinary medicines.

The law also forces national governments to protect livestock farmers from stray dogs through a new system of dog registration.

EU health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said later: “This is a very important piece of draft legislation.”

'Scientific evidence'

Northern Ireland unionist MEP Diane Dodds gave the draft law a “cautious welcome”​, adding: “We still need more scientific evidence into the causes of AMR. Farmers must have the tools to protect animal welfare.”

Dodds also called for regulators to ensure the law was evenly implemented across the EU to ensure that livestock producers did not gain a cost advantage within the European market by shirking its rules.

And another Northern Ireland unionist James Nicholson MEP said the new law replaced “almost 40 pieces of outdated and often inconsistent legislation”​. He welcomed the new law as “a drive for better regulation and against red tape”​.

Dangerous diseases

Under the law, the European Commission will monitor the use of animal antibiotics and publish data. And European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) experts will be consulted when updating the EU list of potentially dangerous diseases, with farmers' organisations, veterinary associations, animal welfare movements and others involved in drafting contingency plans.

The regulation will now be published in the EU Official Journal before becoming law as early as next month.

The law was welcomed by European farmers’ union Copa-Cocega, but spokesperson Amanda Cheesley said her organisation wanted to see how implementing rules and delegated acts would influence how it was rolled out.

“We believe that livestock farmers respect good animal husbandry principles and it’s our view that antibiotics must be used responsibly,”​ she said. “All animal health stakeholders are committed to responsible use.”

Related topics: Meat

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