Monday 9 December 2019

Antibiotic use on farms must be cut to help humans

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney

Aideen Sheehan

A CONSUMER watchdog has called for tougher rules to cut antibiotic use in farm animals and protect human health.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) made the call after tests revealed up to 98pc of poultry meat in some EU countries was contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Department of Agriculture is today holding a conference in Fermoy, Co Cork, to discuss the "global threat posed by antimicrobial resistance".

Vets and food industry experts will discuss the levels of antibiotic resistance found in Irish animals and humans and the measures needed to tackle this.

When germs such as e-coli develop resistance to antibiotics they can become difficult to treat with existing medicines and this can lead to potentially- lethal infections.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said this was a growing problem and he had set up a new interdepartmental committee with Health Minister Leo Varadkar to try and tackle it.

Today's conference will hear details about the threat posed to human health by the issue and how some countries have slashed the use of antibiotics in animals in an attempt to tackle it.

BEUC said tests by consumer groups in nine countries between 2012 and 2014 had found that poultry meat was the most likely to be contaminated with resistant bacteria.

Tests in the Netherlands found 98pc of samples were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant ESBL bacteria, and between 72pc and 82pc of samples in Spain, Italy, Belgium and Portugal.

In Germany, meanwhile, 20pc of chicken samples tested were found to contain the MRSA superbug, which is resistant to most antibiotics.

BEUC said that antimicrobial resistance killed 25,000 people in Europe each year, and EU rules on antibiotic use in farm animal were inadequate.

While routine antibiotic use to make animals grow faster was banned in the EU in 2006, healthy livestock can be given antibiotics as a precaution if other animals in the herd are sick.

BEUC director Monique Goyens said that people needed antibiotics to work when they were sick or having surgery, so it was vital to keep these drugs working efficiently.

"Best practice is to reduce the use of antibiotics on animals which will end up on our plates. For instance, Denmark slashed antimicrobial use in poultry by 90pc in 13 years," she said.

The Department of Agriculture said the connection between antibiotic use in food animals and the development of antimicrobial resistance which may be passed to humans through food remained unclear.

"Based on studies to date, the risk to people of becoming infected with resistant organisms by consuming animal products (meat, milk, eggs) is extremely low," it said.

"However, the department encourages the prudent use of antimicrobials by vets and farmers to prevent and control disease and reduce the risk of unhealthy animals entering the food chain."

Dr Joe Collins of Veterinary Ireland said that it "does not promote or approve the use of antibiotics in preventative fashion".

Irish Independent

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