Bad drugs

The Europian Union votes to ban four widely-used antibiotics in animal feed

Published: Friday 15 January 1999

amid growing fears that antibiotics used in animal feed could lead to drug-resistant diseases among humans, European Union ( eu ) agriculture ministers voted to ban four drugs. Scientists recommended the ban after a Dutch farmer was found to be infected with the same drug-resistant bacteria as his chicken, indicating that the organisms could jump the species barrier. The European Commission, the eu 's executive, had said that antibiotics could weaken the effectiveness on people of drugs which contain them.

The ban is part of the eu 's "safety-first" approach to food prompted by the controversy over bse or the "mad cow" disease. In Europe, about 15 per cent of antibiotics go into animal feed. Companies that manufacture them stand to lose several million dollars, said a spokesperson of the European Commission. Despite intense lobbying from drug manufacturers Pfizer and Rhone-Poulenc, 15 eu ministers voted for the ban. Ministers from Spain, Belgium and Portugal abstained.

The ban will affect the most commonly used animal antibiotic, Tylosin phosphate, along with Virginiamycin, Bacitracin Zinc and Spiramycin. Experts say that the eu must be able to make a sound scientific argument for banning the drugs or face possible action by the us in the World Trade Organisation. Two companies, including Pfizer, are expected to appeal against the ban.

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