Following my recent debate in Parliament on the reckless use of antibiotics on factory farms (LINK) and the terrifying threat that poses to future generations, many voters have contacted their MPs asking them to support my campaign.
A number of MPs, for instance John Redwood, responded very positively. However despite terrifying new evidence of the links between factory farm use and the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, as well as warnings by experts like Sir Liam Donaldson, former Chief Medical Officer, who warned that the ‘every inappropriate or unnecessary use on animals or agriculture is potentially signing a death warrant for a future patient’, so far we have not seen nearly enough concern from politicians.
The main reason for that, as I tried to demonstrate in my debate, is that the major lobby groups continue to wield disproportionate influence over our policy, and as if to confirm that, one voter sent me a copy of a letter she received from her MP, Tim Farron, which wasn’t just influenced by the giant National Farmer’s Union – it was actually written by the organisation [see the letter below].
It is deeply depressing that an MP would delegate policy on perhaps the biggest health threat we face to one of the key lobbying groups resisting change. We face the prospect of losing antibiotics for future generations, and their colossal over-use on factory farms is undoubtedly a factor. This kind of revolving-door approach is the reason we never see any real action from politicians.
From: Tim Farron MP
Date: February 2013
Thank you very much for your recent email with regard to EDM 566.
I regret that I am not able to sign the Early Day Motion in question and I hope you will accept my explanation based on the following information from the NFU:
‘Antibiotics are essential for food-producing animals to prevent them facing unnecessary pain and suffering in the face of disease; and to ensure that food comes from healthy animals, and is therefore safe for human consumption.
Antibiotic resistance is a problem shared by people and animals, the World over. Scientific evidence increasingly recognises that the problem of antibiotic resistance in human comes largely from irresponsible use of antibiotics in human medicine; therefore the NFU welcomes the medical profession’s recent attention to responsible prescribing and use in the human sector. The National Farmers’ Union does acknowledge that there is a potential threat that resistance can ‘pass’ from animals to humans via zoonotic pathogens so it is important that the farming sector takes responsible use of veterinary medicines seriously.
Preventative treatment (prophylaxis) of animals with antibiotics is the treatment of an animal, or a group of animals, before clinical signs of disease; and is given in order to prevent the occurrence of disease or infection. Preventative treatment should only be applied to animals diagnosed at high risk of bacterial disease, under veterinary prescription.
The current range of antibiotics authorised for use in animals provides a key element in the veterinary surgeon’s ability to treat disease and we believe that this range of antibiotics, including those considered to be critically important to humans, should remain available for veterinary use. Like all medicines, antibiotics should be used responsibly, which means:
· Farms should be managed so that the risk of disease developing is minimised. Good husbandry practices such as good hygiene, well ventilated sheds, access to clean water, good bio-security controls and good farm health planning, including appropriate vaccination strategies, will all help to reduce the disease challenge.
· When animals become ill they should be treated in accordance with instructions from the farm’s veterinary surgeon.
· Antibiotics should be used only as prescribed by the farm’s veterinary surgeon and the full course of treatment should be given.
· Critically important antibiotics should not be used preventively or as first line treatment unless there is clear scientific justification to do so. (An exception to this could be where they are used as a dry cow treatment where scientific evidence shows there is little risk of antibiotic resistance developing. In this case, having these products available to be used in this way is important to protect the health and welfare of the cow.)
All medicines on farm should be used as little as possible and as much as necessary. This means using medicines only when required and then using them appropriately. Reducing dosages or the length of treatment simply to use less antimicrobials to meet arbitrary reduction targets is not responsible use – a risk facing some of our continental European neighbours. It could in fact encourage the development of antimicrobial resistance and compromise animal health and welfare.
There is no scientific evidence that intensive farming systems contribute more to the overall risk of antibiotic resistance than extensive farming systems: this is in fact a highly simplistic and divisive argument which contributes nothing to the real debate about responsible use of antibiotics in human and animal medicine. Interestingly, some extensive systems have been shown to routinely require more medical treatment than intensive indoor closed systems as they more frequently receive disease challenges from the wildlife population they meet.’
I hope this explains my position.
With best wishes
Tim Farron MP