Government plans to avoid EU ban on antibiotic preventative mass medication in farming revealed

Under questioning from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) has admitted that it intends to avoid implementing a planned EU ban on livestock farmers using antibiotics for preventative mass medication. The EU regulation is expected to come into force after Brexit.

The European Council of Ministers and representatives of the European Parliament recently agreed wording for a new Regulation on Veterinary Medicines which will end preventative antibiotic mass medication in farming [1]. The new regulation is expected to be approved by the full European Parliament within the next month, and come into force in late 2021 or early 2022.

However, at a VMD event in July attended mainly by farming and pharmaceutical industry representatives and veterinarians, the government’s regulator said that the UK will have left the EU by then and that it planned to “implement the new regulations as fully as we see fit” and that “there may be some clauses we wish to omit/alter” [2].

At the event the Alliance asked if the VMD planned to allow farmers to continue feeding antibiotics in feed and drinking water to groups of animals for disease prevention. The VMD’s Director of Operations, Paul Green, said the UK would allow the practice to continue.

Cóilín Nunan, of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “This European ban on preventative mass medication is long overdue and has taken Member States years to agree. It will be hugely important for protecting human health, so it’s shameful that the VMD is saying that the UK is going to avoid implementing it. The government’s approach means that farmers will be able to continue feeding antibiotics, including critically important and last-resort antibiotics in human medicine, to groups of healthy animals.

The government claims to be the world leader on tackling antibiotic misuse in farming [3], but the UK may end up as one of the only countries in Europe that still allows this kind of irresponsible use of antibiotics. What kind of trade deals will the UK be signing with countries like the US and China, which massively overuse farm antibiotics, if at the same time it has some of the lowest regulatory standards in Europe?”

After further questioning from the Alliance, Mr Green claimed that the agreed wording for the regulation is ambiguous. He said it “allowed for group prophylaxis”, but the regulation clearly states that “the use of antibiotic medicinal products for prophylaxis shall be limited to the administration to [an] individual animal only” [4].

In contrast to the VMD, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said in the European Parliament earlier this month that “the draft regulation includes a ban on preventive use of antibiotics in groups of animals” , and in June a press release from the European Parliament said that the new law “would limit the prophylactic use of antimicrobials (i.e. as a preventive measure, in the absence of clinical signs of infection) to single animals, only when fully justified by a veterinarian in cases where there is a high risk of infection with severe consequences” [7].

Cóilín Nunan said: “By falsely claiming that the proposed regulation allows for preventative antibiotic mass medication, the VMD’s and the government’s strategy appears to be to refuse to implement a hugely important EU law while at the same time claiming regulatory equivalence with Europe.

The antibiotic-resistance crisis is so serious that two years ago many of the UK’s most senior medics wrote to the government asking it to back an EU-wide ban on preventative antibiotic mass medication in farming [5]. But in the end, the government has given in to industry lobbying and has decided that their profits should take precedence over people’s lives [8].”



Notes to Editors