Antibiotics (Intensive Farms)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:42 pm on 9th January 2013.

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Photo of Zac Goldsmith Zac Goldsmith Conservative, Richmond Park 4:42 pm, 9th January 2013

I had just quoted Sir Liam Donaldson, on

“a death warrant for a future patient”,

as a result of the overuse of antibiotics, and I had complained that the British Government have routinely ignored the link between antibiotics in intensive farming and the public health threat. I was about to cite the current chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, on the growing problems of resistant strains of bugs, as well as the Health Protection Agency in November. It was striking that the message focused 100% on over-prescribing by doctors, with zero mention of the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry.

Similarly, when I tabled a parliamentary question to the Department of Health on what funding it provided for research into drug-resistant bacteria, the answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), explicitly mentioned hospital-acquired infections, but not the use of antibiotics in farming. I was encouraged, however, by a reply from the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend Mr Lansley, when I asked him about the link between E. coli resistance to antibiotics and record antibiotic usage on farms. He said:

“Indeed, I was interested to see analysis some years ago of the extent of antibiotic resistance in hospitals in the Netherlands. Resistance was clearly much more prevalent in parts of Friesland where there was much greater antibiotic usage in farming. I therefore completely understand, and my colleagues in DEFRA understand this too. Just as we are looking for the responsible and appropriate prescribing of antibiotics in the health service, my colleagues feel strongly about the proper use of antibiotics in farming.”—[Hansard, 17 July 2012; Vol. 548, c. 842.]

However, since then, we have had a near complete clean sweep of Ministers at both Departments—the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.