Antibiotics (Intensive Farms)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 9th January 2013.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 4:57 pm, 9th January 2013

I am sort of grateful for that intervention; I fear that I could be in terrible danger of agreeing to do almost anything, and so would be able to do nothing else, because I would spend most of my time on this. I will do all that I can. It is very important. As individuals and parents, we all should be concerned, as many of us are, about what we eat and what we feed our children and loved ones. This is as much a public health issue as an animal welfare issue.

The Government have published a code of practice on the responsible use of medicines on the farm and a leaflet on antibiotics, which, like the above code, is on the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s website. We just have to hope and pray that such things are read, but in my experience, responsible producers pay heed to all such advice. There are also regulations.

We continue to work actively with the farming industry to promote the responsible use of antibiotics in farmed animals, and industry organisations have also developed guidance. Furthermore, I am pleased to say that the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2011 will be changed this year to prohibit the advertising of antibiotic products to professional keepers of animals. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park mentioned, from January 2012, the British Poultry Council introduced a voluntary ban on the use of certain critically important antibiotics in chick production, which should be welcomed.

Veterinary use of antibiotics is also being addressed at a European level. It forms a significant component of both the 2011 EU action plan against the rising threats from antimicrobial resistance and the 2012 EU Council conclusions. The EU legislation on veterinary medicines is currently under revision, and the UK, with other member states and the Commission, is examining the available evidence to establish whether there is a need for additional controls on antibiotics used in animals. The Government will continue to press for measures to strengthen controls on antibiotics that are critically important for human health, to make it clear that they should be used for animals only when no effective alternatives exist.

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate at DEFRA closely monitors the use of veterinary medicines in the UK. It analyses samples from food producing animals and their products for residues of veterinary medicines and environmental contaminants. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that food-producing animals form a reservoir of infection in the UK. Food is not considered a major source of infections resistant to antibiotics. Any bacteria associated with food or the environment can be reduced by thorough washing and cooking.

As I mentioned, the scientific consensus is that veterinary use of antibiotics is not a significant driver for human multiresistant infections. However, we are keen to see greater improvements in prescribing in all sectors and are actively working to encourage that. A wide programme of work to tackle antimicrobial resistance has been under way across the UK in the human and animal health sectors for several years. Although much has been achieved, I fully acknowledge that there are a number of areas that require attention and more radical thinking, if we are to have an even greater impact. I am confident that the new UK strategy will move us forward in that respect.

I undertake to write to any hon. Member who raised a question in the debate. Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend and assure him that I will answer all his questions. It now seems that I will read a great many documents and other evidence, but it is important work. If I feel that there is any need to make any changes, I will make them.

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(13)).