In a move celebrated by experts and activists who continue to raise alarm about the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance—fueled in part by rampant overuse of medicines in agriculture—the European Parliament on Thursday approved new rules for antibiotic use on healthy farm animals.
“This is a hugely important breakthrough for human and animal health and is by far the more serious attempt that Europe has ever made to achieve responsible antibiotic use in farming.”
—Cóilín Nunan, Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics
“This is a hugely important breakthrough for human and animal health and is by far the more serious attempt that Europe has ever made to achieve responsible antibiotic use in farming,” declared Cóilín Nunan, campaign manager of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, a coalition of EU-based medical, health, agricultural, environmental, consumer, and animal welfare groups.
About 73 percent of the world’s medicines are currently used on livestock, Nunan noted, and “farming accounts for about two thirds of all antibiotic use in Europe, so if the legislation is implemented correctly, we should be seeing very large reductions in use in years to come.”
The “long-awaited” law, which is set to take effect in 2022, will limit preventative use of antibiotics on groups of animals; empower European regulators to designate certain medicines for human use only; impose restrictions on imports; and encourage new research and protections for new drugs.
It was approved in a 583-16 vote with 20 abstentions. A separate measure that also garnered support from an overwhelming majority of MEPs will set restrictions on the sale and use of medicated feed for livestock.
MEP Molly Scott Cato, of the U.K., pointed out that the legislation could have broader positive impacts, explaining to the Guardian that it “will also challenge the factory farming model where animal suffer appalling conditions and are packed together in unhealthy conditions,” because “without the routine use of antibiotics, farmers will need to adopt better farming practices.”
Warning that “antibiotic resistance is a real sword of Damocles, threatening to send our health care system back to the Middle Ages,” MEP Françoise Grossetête of France called the legislation “a major step forward for public health.”
“Without swift action to reduce infections, we are at risk of putting medicine back in the dark ages—to an age where common procedures we take for granted could become too dangerous to perform and treatable conditions become life-threatening.”
—Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer
Her remarks echoed those of England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, as her government launched the Keeping Antibiotics Working Campaign earlier this week.
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