A group of multinational consumer organizations has come together to demand that governments impose tighter controls on the use of antibiotics in food animals.
Last week in Brussels the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a forum for European and American consumer advocates, approved a resolution calling on countries to ban the non-therapeutic use of farm animal antibiotics.
Antibiotics are given to farm animals for three reasons — either to treat an existing illness, prevent future diseases, or to promote growth.
Scientists have expressed concern that the widespread use of antibiotics on farms is contributing to bacterial resistance to these drugs, which poses a threat to human health.
The proposal recommends that governments ban the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in animals, and severely limit therapeutic applications of these drugs.
In the past, The World Health Organization has said that “National governments should adopt a proactive approach to reduce the need for antimicrobials in animals and their contribution to antimicrobial resistance and to ensure their prudent use (including reducing overuse and misuse), as elements of a national strategy for the containment of antimicrobial resistance.”
In 2006, the European Union forbid the use of most growth-promoting antibiotics in feed. Sweden banned the use of antimicrobials in feed without veterinary prescription in 1986, and Denmark outlawed all non-therapeutic antibiotics for food animals.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has released draft guidelines on the judicious use of animal antibiotics that point to a definitive link between the use of these drugs and an increase in antibiotic resistance among pathogens that affect humans.
The document concludes that “The use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals should be limited to those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health.”
However no laws are currently in place in the U.S. against the sub-therapeutic use of animal antibiotics.
In its resolution, TACD made six key policy recommendations regarding food animal antibiotic use. These include:
— Banning the use of animal antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes, i.e. for growth promotion
— Funding national systems to monitor antimicrobial use in food-production animals
— Requiring farmers to obtain a prescription from a veterinarian before administering antibiotics to animals, disallowing the prescription of any antimicrobials crucial to the treatment of humans.
— Improving health and hygiene management on farms to lessen the need for antimicrobials to treat and prevent disease
— Banning antimicrobials in crop/plant protection
— National health authorities should limit any unnecessary or uncontrolled use of antimicrobials in animals
“TACD believes action is urgently needed to control the emergence of resistant strains of zoonotic bacteria like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. These pathogens have developed resistance to multiple antimicrobials, and caused illnesses through the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans through the food supply,” the proposal says.
Indeed the current strain of E. coli O104 still ravaging Europehis said to be resistant to multiple animal antibiotics.
According to Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of Food Safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and co-chair of the TACD Food Policy Committee, the ongoing outbreak of E. coli O104:H4 in Europe signals a need for regulatory actions to protect the food supply, and controlling animal antimicrobials is one such act.
“The recent outbreak of foodborne illness in Germany illustrated the enormous challenge of food safety,” DeWaal said in a statement about the TACD agreement. “It is constantly moving, and governments must develop policies that anticipate problems before they erupt into major outbreaks.”
Sue Davies, chief policy advisor of the UK-based consumer group Which? and EU co-chair of TACD, also spoke about challenges facing food safety at the meeting.
“[It is] a critical time for food policy as many issues are coming together and need to be tackled effectively to ensure that consumers can make healthy and safe food choices – whether that’s expectations of quality, origin or the ability to act on ethical or other concerns,” she said.