Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted on October 25 in approval of measures that would limit antibiotic use in livestock and poultry.

Limitations on animal antibiotic use

Under the rules approved by MEPs, veterinary antibiotics must not under any circumstances serve to improve the performance of the animals or compensate for poor animal husbandry. The rules would limit the use of antimicrobials as a preventive measure, in the absence of clinical signs of infection (known as prophylactic use) to single animals and not groups.

However, antibiotics can be used only when fully justified by a veterinarian in cases where there is a high risk of infection.

MEP also called for metaphylactic use (treating a group of animals when one shows signs of infection) to be a last resort, and that type of use should only occur once a veterinarian has diagnosed infection and prescribed the antimicrobials.

Reserving antibiotics for humans

To help tackle antimicrobial resistance, the law would empower the European Commission to select antimicrobials to be reserved only for treating humans.

Imports: EU rules to preclude use of antibiotics as growth promoters

As advocated by MEPs, the text also imposes that imported foodstuffs will have to meet EU standards and that antibiotics cannot be used to enhance the growth of animals.

Innovation

To encourage research into new antimicrobials, the legislation provides for incentives, including longer periods of protection for technical documentation on new medicines and commercial protection for innovative active substances. It also protects significant investments in data generated to improve an existing antimicrobial product or to keep it on the market.

The agreement with EU ministers was adopted with 583 votes to 16 and 20 abstentions.

Medicated feed

In a separate vote, MEPs also approved -- by 583 votes in favor to 31 against and 6 abstentions --new rules on more responsible ways to produce, sell and use medicated feed to tackle the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Françoise Grossetête (EPP, FR), rapporteur, said: “This is a major step forward for public health. Beyond farmers or animal owners, the use of veterinary medicines concerns us all, because it has a direct impact on our environment and our food; in short, on our health. Thanks to this law, we will be able to reduce the consumption of antibiotics on livestock farms, an important source of resistance that is then transmitted to humans. Antibiotic resistance is a real sword of Damocles, threatening to send our health care system back to the Middle Ages.”

Next steps

The rules still need to be formally adopted by Council before publication on the Official Journal.