UK rejects veterinary advice to ban antibiotic drug adverts to farmers

| 5th January 2011
Antibiotics being administered

Vets say a ban would reduce pressure from farmers to prescribe antibiotics drugs unnecessarily

Strong industry lobbying sees Defra ignore concerns from its own vets about overuse and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bugs from farm animals to the food chain

Vets have criticised Defra for blocking moves to ban the direct promotion of antimicrobrial medicines to farmers, restricting the advertising to just vets and pharmacists.

The Government's own veterinary officials had proposed the ban, with the support of the UK's main membership body, the British Veterinary Association (BVA), who argued it would reduce the pressure being placed on vets by farmers to prescribe antibiotic drugs unnecessarily.

Antibiotics, and other antimicrobial agents are used by farmers to kill or restrict the growth of bacteria, viruses, fungi and disease-causing organisms in their livestock. However, there are growing concerns from campaigners and health officials about the spread of antibiotic-resistence on farms.

'It is incredible that they can make a decision like this. The adverts carry on a culture of farmers seeing antibiotics as the first answer to tackling the problem,' said Soil Association policy advisor Richard Young.

Responsible use of medicines

The government's Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) admitted in its recently published consultation that it had received 'strong' opposition from the agricultural press and farming community to the ban. Farming publications claimed a ban would lead to a loss of revenue and a resulting drop in articles on animal health issues to inform farmers.

Veterinary groups said the drug adverts did not help farmers make informed decisions about using medicines and that there was a danger of the message of responsible use being lost in the 'heavy advertising' of new drugs.

'It is questionable how much detailed information consumers can learn about a product purely from advertising. So the argument that adverts provide essential information to farmers is not a very strong one,' said Carl Padgett, President-Elect of the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

'If farmers want to find out about the medicines that are currently available the first port of call should be their farm veterinary surgeon with whom they can regularly discuss treatment options for their animals or the NOAH Compendium of Animal Medicines which can be searched by active ingredient, by company, by species, or by therapeutic indication, as well as information direct from the manufacturers’ websites,' he added.

The BVA also rejected Farming Minister Jim Paice's suggestion that farmers were 'experts' in using antibiotic drugs. Padgett said it was 'inappropriate' for them to be considered as experts in veterinary medicine and that the prescribing of prescription-only veterinary drugs could 'only be done by a veterinary surgeon'.

Other industry groups said they accepted the seriousness of antibiotic resistance but did not believe banning advertising would make any difference. The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) said a ban would have 'compromised dairy cow health and welfare' while National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) Chief executive Phil Sketchley said it was ultimately vets that made the decision on whether an antibiotic was needed.

The government did accept the VMD proposal to bring in a compulsory registration scheme for online retailers in an attempt to stop the sale of counterfeit medicines, which look geniune, to pet owners.

Useful links

VMD consultation summary

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