Antibiotics `create worse risk than BSE'

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The Independent Online
SENIOR GOVERNMENT scientists will call today for tough new curbs on antibiotics fed to chicken and pigs after research showed they pose a bigger risk to human health than BSE.

In a long-awaited report, Department of Health microbiologists will conclude that overuse of growth-promoting drugs has resulted in a "real threat" of resistant bacteria being transferred from animals to humans.

The Advisory Committee on Microbial Safety of Food (ACMSF) will warn that diseases such as salmonella and E.coli will develop previously unseen levels of resistance unless urgent action is taken.

The committee's findings will be accompanied by an even more outspoken report by the Soil Association, which claims that Britain is facing a "major epidemic" of diseases that are said to have developed multiple resistance.

The association, which oversees organic produce in the UK, will claim that all intensively raised chickens, and many pigs, are now being fed a potentially dangerous growth promoter.

Over-prescription by vets has caused strains of bacteria to develop resistance while new antibiotics has failed to halt the problem.

Some strains of salmonella now have a 95 per cent resistance to antibiotics, compared with 5 per cent 20 years ago. The resistance of MRSA, a bacteria found in many hospitals, has risen from 2 per cent to 40 per cent since 1989.

The European Union banned four growth-promoting drugs in July, but since then the British Government has allowed farmers to feed chickens with a similar antibiotic, avilamycin.

Critics claim that avilamycin will undermine the effects of a similar drug, Ziracin, which is being used to combat MRSA, meningitis and pneumonia "superbugs" in British hospitals.

The ACMSF was set up by the last Tory government and has spent two years researching the issue.

Today's report, which will be its first, is understood to have been repeatedly delayed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff). It is understood that the 700-page report will include measures ranging from a possible ban on some drugs and better surveillance of disease by vets.

Richard Young, senior policy adviser to the Soil Association, said that the threat posed by antibiotics in poultry and pigs was "infinitely greater" and more costly than BSE.

"We are facing a major epidemic of diseases which have developed multiple drug resistance," he said.

A spokesman for Maff said that it would consider in full the ACMSF study.