Antibiotics in agriculture continue without safety limits

A voluntary set of guidelines promoting the "responsible use of antibiotic" in agriculture has been criticised for failing to limit antibiotic use. Fears continue to grow that overuse of antibiotics in animal rearing will render useless other antibiotics aimed at human diseases.

“We would hope that the guidelines will result in a reduction in the use of antibiotics, but there aren’t any specific targets,” acknowledged a National Farmers’ Union (NFU) spokesperson. The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) guidelines were published on 28 June by an alliance that includes the NFU, British Association of Feed Supplements and Additive Manufacturers and the British Veterinary Association.

Speaking to edie, Richard Young, antibiotics campaigner for the Soil Association, denounced the guidelines as inadequate. “This is the industry engaged in a PR exercise. They talk about developing long-term strategies of reducing antibiotic dependencies in animals, but it is little more than business as usual.” The Soil Association certifies and promotes organic foods.

Although Young is pleased to see the agricultural industry beginning to assess its antibiotic use, he feels the issue is more urgent than the RUMA guidelines foresee. “There need to be fundamental changes to the production processes in the pig and poultry industry,” said Young. “Within a relatively short space of time, chickens and pigs will be fed one antibiotic that is closely related to a drug used in hospitals to treat the most serious illnesses.”

Young is referring to the growth hormone avilamycin, marketed in the UK as Maxus G200 by Elanco Animal Health. Avilamycin use is on the increase following an EU-wide ban on four other growth hormones — virginiamycin, tylosin phosphate, spiramycin and zinc bacitracin. A Danish study suggests that animals given avilamycin produce bacteria that are resistant to a new antibiotic aimed at humans, everninomycin. Everninomycin is seen as potentially-important antibiotic in the treatment of hospital ‘superbugs’ and therefore human resistance to everninomycin would be dangerous.

The National Office of Animal Health (NOAM), representing companies in the UK animal medicines industry, believes the RUMA guidelines are adequate. “It’s all part of a general trend toward antibiotic reduction,” said Alison Glennon

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