Plans to limit the use of antibiotics on farms, in order to keep food free from resistant bacteria, were adopted by Parliament on Thursday.

Veterinary medicines must not under any circumstances serve to improve the performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry, says the new law. It would limit the use of antimicrobials as a preventive measure, in the absence of clinical signs of infection (known as prophylactic use) to single animals and not groups. The drugs can be used only when fully justified by a veterinarian in cases where there is a high risk of infection.

Metaphylactic use (i.e. treating a group of animals when one shows signs of infection) should be a last resort, and only occur once a veterinarian has diagnosed infection and prescribed the antimicrobials.

Reserving antibiotics for humans

To help tackle antimicrobial resistance, the law would empower the European Commission to select antimicrobials to be reserved only for treating humans.

Imports: EU rules to preclude use of antibiotics as growth promoters

As advocated by MEPs, the text also imposes that imported foodstuffs will have to meet EU standards and that antibiotics cannot be used to enhance the growth of animals.

Innovation

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

The agreement with EU ministers was adopted with 583 votes to 16 and 20 abstentions.

Medicated feed

In a separate vote, MEPs also approved, by 583 votes in favour to 31 against and 6 abstentions, new rules on more responsible ways to produce, sell and use medicated feed to tackle the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

“Antibiotic resistance is threatening to send our health system back to the Middle Ages. This is why we have to continue to fight against the misuse of antibiotics in animals, which are an important source of antibiotic resistance, then transmitted to humans”, said the EPP Group’s Françoise Grossetête, author of the dossier on the regulation of veterinary medicinal products.

Throughout the inter-institutional negotiations, one of the most important priorities the EPP Group fought for was the reciprocity of European standards for the use of antibiotics in imported foods.

“Our trading partners who want to continue importing to Europe will have to obey the same standards as us. We cannot continue to impose standards on European breeders that our partners do not respect”, stressed Grossetête.

Medicated feed, say S&Ds, is one of the routes of oral administration of veterinary medicines to a group of animals and the safest way because it ensures an accurate dosage of the veterinary medicine. This is crucial when thinking about our work in fighting against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

According to a press release S&Ds welcome “the adoption in plenary of the report on ‘veterinary medicinal products manufacture, placing on the market and use of medicated feed´. Responsible use of antibiotics has to avoid overdosing as well as under-dosing, particularly when it comes to treating groups of animals.”

“Today we have taken another significant step in our battle against antimicrobial resistance, updating and harmonising rules on the manufacture, placing on the market and use of medicated feed through a regulation instead of a Directive. These rules are under the new general regulation of veterinary medicinal products (VMP). This is particularly the case where we have established the total prohibition of prophylactic use of medicated feed containing antibiotics in the medicated feed regulation,” said the agriculture vice-chair, rapporteur and S&D member, Clara Eugenia Aguilera García.

“Prevention is always better than cure, but when the only solution is to administer a VMP (via medicated feed) we will have stricter rules of use and manufacture for a therapeutic tool in the hands of our veterinarians,” she added.

The agreement, which, amongst others, suggests restricting the preventive use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine and drawing up a list of antibiotics that can only be used in the field of human medicine, is expected to be finally approved by the Member States by the end of this year.

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.