European ministers ban four antibiotics from animal feed

EUROPEAN AGRICULTURE ministers have banned four antibiotic drugs from animal feed after warnings that overuse by farmers is causing resistance to antibiotics in humans who eat pork and chicken.

Bowing to Swedish and Danish research indicating that the routine use of these drugs poses long-term health concerns, a majority of governments, including Britain, brushed aside lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry to back the ban.

Nick Brown, the Minister for Agriculture, said his support was based on concern for public safety. "The new Labour Government is determined to put the protection of the consumer at the forefront of decision making in this area. That means that on the basis of scientific evidence and the precautionary principle, the British Government supports the ban," Mr Brown said.

Other ministers said they had learned the lessons of BSE, E. coli and other serious food scares. "This is a triumph for the consumer," said Ireland's Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh.

Because antibiotics are routinely incorporated into feedstuffs, there are widespread indications that they are being used not simply to treat illness but to fatten pigs and poultry. The drugs enhance digestion and prevent weight loss, thus saving farmers money.

Yesterday's decision applies to four drugs - Spiramycin, Tysolin phosphate, Virginiamycin and Zincbacitracin - although farmers will still be allowed to purchase them from pharmacies to treat illness on a restricted basis. Controls will be introduced at feed mills to ensure the ban on mixing them with feed is observed.

Pharmaceutical producers reacted angrily to the ban. Alpharma, a US-Norwegian company which manufactures Zinc bacitracin, said there was no scientific evidence of even a remote risk of resistance build-up in humans. The drug was notused by humans so the question of build-up was irrelevant, a spokesman said.

Zincbacitracin helped farmers to reduce costs because treated animals could eat less for the same results, he said.

The ban will be reviewed in two years to take account of any new scientific evidence.

Four other animal feed drugs will remain on the market but EU scientists are considering whether to extend the the ban to them.

Spain, Portugal and Belgium abstained in yesterday's vote, arguing that the evidence of a link between farm use of antibiotics and human resistance was not convincing.