Concrete proposals under the review of the European regulations for the use of veterinary medicines are expected to come into effect by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019. However, according to the National Office of Animal Health, little progress has been made to date since the review of the regulations was announced in 2014.
According to Dawn Howard, the chief executive of NOAH, the EU proposals for new veterinary medicinal products and medicated feed regulations are in the “co-decision process” where amendments can be put forward by individual EU countries and the European Parliament. These negotiations that include the public health risk of antimicrobial resistance, the competitiveness and the development of new veterinary medicines, the use of antimicrobials through medicated feed and the availability of veterinary medicines across the EU are expected to last for between two and three years.
However, Mrs Howard said that following the publication in December of the O’Neill Review of Antimicrobial Resistance, several “myths and misunderstandings” had been thrown up surrounding the use and regulation of antibiotics. “There appears to be confusion about current rules on antibiotic use in farming in the UK,” she said. “While the issue of global antibiotic resistance is a real concern, the situation will not be helped by misinformation, especially when we are dealing with animal welfare.
“The reality is that no class of antibiotic has been banned for use, nor do we know of any plans to do so. In addition, there are no moves to ban in-feed medication for use in livestock. The UK has some of the strictest regulations on antibiotic use in the world, as well as a deep-rooted culture of responsible use: for example, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters was stopped right across the EU in 2006,” she said.
“We are not complacent. For example we support the need for improved data on antibiotic usage to be available for the authorities to allow better analysis of which antibiotics are being used, where and in what species.
“In the UK, the livestock species sector groups are already developing plans to meet this need.” One of the recommendations in the O’Neill review called for a global target to reduce antibiotic use in food production to an agreed level per kilogram of livestock and fish together with restrictions on the use of antibiotics important to humans. NOAH said that the UK already has its own five year strategy and the US also has a national strategy for combating antibiotic resistant bacteria.
However, NOAH said: “Given the experiences of trying to achieve consensus at the WHO, it is unrealistic, unachievable and unfair to assume any other country will accept top-down targets set by others.”
The organisation said that use was not the real problem and the focus should be on the reduction in the development and dissemination of antimicrobial resistance. “A global reduction target runs the risk of being commandeered by processors, retailers and others for commercial motives, resulting in a ‘rat race to zero’ with significant downsides for animal health and welfare and public health,” NOAH stressed. Reduction targets could lead to improper use of antibiotics creating further problems.
NOAH said the O’Neill review’s recommendation for the development of minimum standards to reduce antimicrobial manufacturing waste being released into the environment does not reflect the current position around the world and the fact that there are already clear standards in force. NOAH criticised the review for failing to recognise much of the work already carried out by organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
It said it also fails to recognise the scientific consensus that the biggest driver of antimicrobial resistance in humans is human use and it criticises the report for taking an unscientific approach by considering antibiotics and all bacteria together and making important assumptions based on “non-existing or unreliable data”.
With regard to the EU review of the regulations on the use of veterinary medicines, NOAH said that both vets and farmers are likely to have to provide data on antibiotic usage to authorities to allow better analysis of which antibiotics are being used and where and in which species. The proposed legislation is expected to strengthen existing powers that the authorities have to restrict the use of particular antibiotics. However, it said that it is unclear whether any particular products will be banned from veterinary use in the future, but the regulations are expected to strengthen the authorities’ powers in this direction.
There are also no proposals to ban medicated feed. At present the European Commission is not planning to ban vets from dispensing, although MEPs in some countries have put forward this proposal, while other MEPs support the right of vets to dispense as well as prescribe. Mrs Howard added: “NOAH is working alongside its European federation (IFAH-Europe), to ensure all decisions taken during the review are based on good science.
“With regard to antibiotics, there are proposals that would enable regulators to take action to protect public health should they see fit. “But it should be made clear that the new regulations will only strengthen powers they already have. “Because this affects both human and animal health directly, all discussion on antibiotics must be well-informed. NOAH actively supports working together under ‘One Health’ and is providing scientific and technical expertise where needed,” she said.