Superbugs: MEPs want to curb use of antibiotics in farming

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Source: European Parliament

To fight the growing resistance of bacteria to today’s antibiotics, the use of existing antimicrobial drugs should be restricted, and new ones should be developed, said the European Parliament on Thursday. In a vote on draft plans to update an EU law on veterinary medicines, MEPs advocate banning collective and preventive antibiotic treatment of animals, and back measures to stimulate research into new medicines.

“With the World Health Organisation warning us that the world risks drifting into a post-antibiotic era, in which antibiotic resistance would cause more deaths each year than cancer, it is high time we took energetic measures and grasped the problem at its roots”, said rapporteur Françoise Grossetête (EPP, FR).

“The fight against antibiotic resistance must start on farms. We wish to prohibit the purely preventive use of antibiotics, restrict collective treatment to very specific cases, prohibit the veterinary use of antibiotics that are critically important for human medicine and put an end to online sales of antibiotics, vaccines and psychotropic substances. Thanks to these measures, we hope to reduce the amounts of antibiotics found on consumers’ plates”, she added.

“However we need not reduce the therapeutic arsenal available to vets. This law aims to facilitate their work. It is absolutely necessary to encourage research and innovation in this sector”, she concluded.

Veterinary medicines must not under any circumstances serve to improve performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry, say MEPs, who advocate limiting the prophylactic use of antimicrobials (i.e. as a preventive measure, in the absence of clinical signs of infection) to single animals and only when fully justified by a veterinarian.

To help tackle antimicrobial resistance, the revised law would empower the European Commission to designate antimicrobials which are to be reserved for human treatment. 

Innovation

To encourage research into new antimicrobials, MEPs advocate incentives, including longer periods of protection for technical documentation on new medicines, commercial protection of innovative active substances, and protection for significant investments in data generated to improve an existing antimicrobial product or to keep it on the market.

MEPs also gave their support on Thursday to a report by Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu (S&D, RO), amending another law to improve the marketing authorisation procedure for veterinary medicinal products, which is to be decoupled from that for medicines for humans.

Next steps

Both reports were approved by show of hands. MEPs also voted to open negotiations with the Council, with the aim of reaching a first reading agreement on the proposals.

Note for editors

The objectives of the draft law on antimicrobials are interlinked. It aims to: 

  • increase the availability of veterinary medicinal products;
  • reduce administrative burdens;
  • stimulate competitiveness and innovation;
  • improve the functioning of the internal market; and
  • address the public health risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). 

The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) recently warned that bacteria in humans, food and animals continue to show resistance to the most widely-used antimicrobials. Scientists say that resistance to ciprofloxacin, an antimicrobial that is critically important for treating human infections, is very high in Campylobacter, thus reducing the options for effective treatment of severe foodborne infections. Multi-drug resistant Salmonella bacteria continue to spread across Europe.

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