July 2, 2010

Animal antibiotics advertising face potential ban in UK

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) has drawn up controversial new rules to prohibit pharmaceutical firms from the direct marketing of antimicrobial veterinary products to UK farmers.

This will include a range of drugs used to treat common livestock diseases such as mastitis, influenza, intestinal diseases and pneumonia.

Farmers will be starved of vital information to keep their animals in good health if plans to ban the advertising of antibiotics get the go ahead, industry experts have warned.

The rules, which are in direct response to concerns over a rise in antimicrobial resistance, will bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe, where direct marketing is prohibited. But the proposals have been met with opposition by many within the livestock industry.

The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) said a ban on advertising antibiotics would take an important piece of information away from farmers and could in fact have an adverse effect on animal health.

The body, which represents the UK animal medicines industry, said a ban would do nothing to reduce resistance profiles but would hinder farmers' ability to make informed decisions on what products to purchase.

NOAH chief executive Phil Sketchley said, "Whilst NOAH can understand the political pressures on the regulatory system that have brought about this proposed change, we must ensure this proposed ban does not impinge on providing farmers with essential information relating to the health and welfare of their animals."

A key concern for regulators is the effect of antimicrobial resistant bacteria passing through the food chain, raising fears it could lead to a rise in human "super bugs" such as MRSA.

While the farming industry recognises antimicrobial resistance as a genuine issue to be tackled, evidence of its effect on human health is remarkably difficult to come by.

In 2004, a group of leading independent scientists, headed by Prof. Ian Phillips, published a review of the all the research and information on the effect of using antimicrobials in farming on human health.

Having pored over more than 200 studies, the report's authors concluded, "Whereas some resistant organisms can be shown to reach man via the food chain, little additional harm results from resistance, even when infection supervenes."

Only in the cases of salmonella and campylobacter did the researchers find any link, although they admit there was a "lack of data" and any resistance in animals adds only very little to the burden of human disease.

Similarly, precise data on practical examples of resistance in UK farm animals is difficult to obtain.

Under the current guidelines, both vets and farmers are asked to report instances of treatment failure to the VMD so it can keep a careful eye on where resistance is occurring.

To date the VMD has had no reported cases of treatment failure.
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