Implement ban on advertising antibiotics to farmers immediately
15 October 2012
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics welcomes the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) decision to ban the advertising of antibiotics to farmers , but is calling for this to be implemented immediately, not towards the end of 2013 as proposed.
The UK is the only EU country which still allows antibiotics to be advertised to farmers, but regulators have finally agreed to take action following an objection from the European Commission .
Alliance member organisations have long called on the VMD and the European Commission to ban the practice because it increases sales, leads to inappropriate choice of drugs and undermines the whole basis of prescription-only medicine. Advertising can expose vets to pressure from farmers to prescribe antibiotics for commercial as opposed to clinical reasons. It is also likely to have contributed to the unacceptable practice whereby farmers have been bypassing their vets, instead giving direct instructions to feed mills on which antibiotic they want added to feed .
Inappropriate prescribing influenced by advertising adds to the burden of antibiotic resistance. This has been particularly significant in the case of antibiotics classed as ‘critically important in human medicine’. These have been widely promoted in the farming press, leading to very large increases in their use .
Compassion in World Farming’s senior campaign manager and co-ordinator of the Alliance, Emma Slawinski, said: “This is a small but important step on the road towards more responsible use of antibiotics in British farming. Much more still needs to be done if we are serious about tackling the growing threat that antibiotic resistance poses to human and animal health.
Major restrictions are needed on the use of critically important antibiotics which are contributing to the spread of dangerous superbugs like ESBL E. coli and MRSA in British and European farm animals. The routine use of antibiotics for disease prevention must also be reduced and eventually phased out. Finally, policy-makers must recognise that most antibiotic use on farms is linked to the intensive way in which the animals are kept. Improving animal health and welfare, by getting rid of overcrowding and the worst excesses of factory farming must therefore become key components of the Government’s antibiotic resistance strategy.”
For press enquiries contact the Soil Association press office:
Josh Stride, press & e-communications officer – 0117 314 5170 / 07717 802 183
NOTES TO EDITORS
About the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics was formed by Compassion in World Farming, Sustain and the Soil Association to raise awareness about the growing threat of antibiotic resistance passing from food animals to humans. The Alliance welcomes Government initiatives since 2006 to reduce unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics by GPs and hospital doctors but wants to see similar action on the veterinary side. http://www.soilassociation.org/animalwelfare/antibiotics/alliancetosaveourantibiotics
 Veterinary Medicines Directorate, 2012. Changes to Advertising Rules, Letter to stakeholders dated 11 October, http://vmd.defra.gov.uk/pdf/vmr_letter1012.pdf
Veterinary Medicines Directorate, 2012. Changes to Advertising Rules, Questions and Answers, http://vmd.defra.gov.uk/pdf/vmr_QandA1012.pdf
 Other EU member states banned the advertising of antibiotics to farmers when they implemented European Directive 2001/82/EC, which prohibited the advertising of antibiotics to the ‘general public’. A common-sense reading of the Directive made it clear that ‘general public’ was intended to apply to anyone who was not a veterinary professional or a pharmacist.
In response to the Directive, the VMD put a proposal for a ban out to consultation in 2005, which Alliance members supported. However, the VMD changed its mind after vocal opposition from the pharmaceutical industry’s trade body, NOAH, resulting in the UK becoming the only EU Member State to allow advertising of antibiotics to farmers to continue. Defra lawyers believed they had got round the Directive by describing farmers as ‘professional keepers of animals’, to distinguish them from the ‘general public’.
During a European Medicines Agency (EMA) consultation about farm antibiotic use in 2008, the Soil Association highlighted the British avoidance of the advertising ban, and called for the European Commission to take steps to ensure that all member states complied equally. The EMA responded that the comment would be forwarded to the European Commission for consideration (see p43 http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Other/2009/10/WC500004314.pdf ).
In 2010, the VMD consulted again on the advertising question. The Alliance supported a ban as did the British Veterinary Association, but this time opposition was led by farming organisations and the farming press. The proposed ban was rejected by then farming Minister Jim Paice (see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120625/text/120625w0001.htm).
 The VMD has recently said that it has been made aware that “that a practice exists of farmers approaching their feed manufacturer as a ‘middle man’ to request a medicated feedingstuff prescription from their vet. The feed manufacturer then requests a prescription from the veterinary surgeon often providing the vet with the details required”. The VMD also acknowledges that vets are regularly asked to sign pre-prepared prescriptions without making a clinical assessment of need or even knowing the number of animals involved. This is in contravention of Veterinary Medicines Regulations. See MacDonald J., 2012., Prescription of medicated feedingstuffs, Veterinary Record, http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/171/6/145.short?rss=1
 The World Health Organisation has said that efforts to reduce risks to human health from the farm use of antibiotics should focus most urgently on the modern cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones, which they have classified as ‘critically important in human medicine’. However, advertising in the farming press has contributed to an increase of over 500% in the use of modern cephalosporins and of over 80% in the use of fluoroquinolones over the past decade (according to veterinary antibiotic sales data at http://vmd.defra.gov.uk/public/antimicrobial_pubs.aspx and data obtained through Freedom of Information requests). In contrast, the human use of these antibiotics has been falling since 2006 (see http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1279888970625).