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Farm Animals: Disease

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 June 2015

1. What steps she is taking to reduce the routine use of antibiotics to prevent disease in farm animals. (900405)

We have made it very clear that we do not support the routine preventive use of antibiotics or the use of antibiotics to compensate for poor animal husbandry. That is reflected in the revised guidelines on the responsible use of animal medicines on the farm, published by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate last December. We continue to work with a number of industry bodies to encourage the development of prescribing guidelines, to challenge and optimise prescribing practices and behaviour.

Today, we hear that MRSA of a livestock origin is not only likely to be well established within the UK pig herd but has for the first time been found in British retail pork, from which it could be passed on to humans. In the light of this new and extremely troubling evidence, will the Department now finally set clear targets for phasing out routine preventive use of antibiotics in farm animals where no disease has been diagnosed, or is the Minister happy to take the risk of a post-antibiotic future?

It is important to recognise that livestock-associated MRSA is a different strain from that which affects our hospitals and does not cross to the human population. This country has always had slightly lower levels of antibiotic usage than countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, which have had more serious problems. They have to be prescribed and clinical decisions have to be made, but the guidelines we have issued mean we have managed to suppress the use of antibiotics and ensure they are used sparingly.

Does the Minister agree that microbial antibiotic resistance is by no means exclusively a concern for veterinary medicine, and will he join me in welcoming the publication back in 2013 of a Government strategy to deal with the issue across Departments?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This issue also affects the Department for Health, and the chief medical officer is leading our work in this area. As my hon. Friend says, we have published an antimicrobial strategy setting out our approach for the next five years. It is also true that, although the use of antibiotics in farming has been relatively static over the past decade or so, we have seen an increase in the use of antibiotics in medicine, which is of great concern.

McDonald’s is phasing out beef products that contain antibiotics, but it has indicated that beef products containing ionophore drugs will be acceptable, as they harm neither animals nor humans. What discussions has the Minister had with the catering industry about that?

I have not had any specific discussions on that point. As I have said, all antibiotics have to be prescribed. It is important to distinguish between routine use and preventive use. Sometimes it is right to use them preventively if there is a particular problem in a herd or a flock, but they have to be prescribed by vets—and only sparingly.