Farmers `failing' to limit drug use

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FARMERS WERE criticised yesterday for their "inadequate" response to worries that overuse of antibiotics in commercial farming is leading to the rise of "superbugs" that could kill humans.

An alliance of farming and pharmaceutical groups, Responsible Use of Medicine in Agriculture (Ruma), yesterday issued guidelines for farmers on the use of antibiotics on intensively farmed animals. Brian Jennings, Ruma's chairman, called them "a major step forward in the wide promotion of existing best practice across the [farm] sectors as a whole".

But the Soil Association, the organic farming pressure group, criticised the guidelines as "putting a gloss" on Britain's reluctance to reduce the use of drugs on farms. Compassion in World Farming, which opposes intensive farming practice, said the move was "going against the tide". "Consumers have made it clear that they don't want meat and eggs produced with massive drug input," said Joyce da Silva, CWF's director.

Mr Jennings said a national target for reduction would be "extremely difficult" to set. "I don't think any groups would oppose the use of antibiotics," he said. "I think they recognise the need for antibiotics for the prevention and cure of disease."

British farmers are some of the heaviest users of antibiotics in Europe. The Soil Association estimated in December that of the 1,225 tons of antibiotics used annually in the UK, only 40 per cent goes to humans. About a third goes to farm animals and a quarter on pets.

A rise in the number of human salmonella infections, which are antibiotic- resistant, has raised fears that the use of the drugs in animals is breeding more deadly forms of disease which threaten humans. Four commonly used farm antibiotics will be banned from use under European Commission orders from Thursday, following fears that they could breed drug-resistant bacteria which would then infect humans.