Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Jeff Rooker MP, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  Sub-Committee D considered this subject at its meeting on 27 January 1999. The ban is clearly an important issue and I have been asked to write to you to raise three related points.

  Firstly, the Sub-Committee seeks confirmation that the Government are satisfied that the ban on the four antibiotic growth promoters is based on sound scientific evidence. Secondly, it wishes to know why the ban does not extend to meat imported into the European Union. Has this anything to do with the ban on growth-promoting hormones, which does extend to imported meat but which is currently being contested at the World Trade Organisation? Finally, is it possible to test meat to find out whether the animals from which it was taken were given any of the banned antibiotics?

  The Sub-Committee awaits your answer with interest and, while acknowledging that the proposal has already been approved, retains the scrutiny reserve.

1 February 1999

Letter from Jeff Rooker MP, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 1 February in which you raised three questions related to the proposal to ban the use of four antibiotic growth promoters which was agreed in the Council of Agriculture Ministers on14 December 1998. The questions were raised in a meeting of Sub-Committee D which took place on27 January.

  The first question was whether the Government are satisfied that the ban on the four antibiotic growth promoters is based on sound scientific evidence. In agreeing the proposal, the Council jointly with the Commission recognised that it was essential to guard against the development of antibiotic resistance in human medicine. They considered that this general concern and respect for the precautionary principle, and the expiry of derogations granted to certain member states, justified the decision to implement the ban. As your Committee will have seen from the draft version of the regulation, its justification in the preamble flows from concerns about the safety of the four growth promoters expressed in opinions of the Commission's Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition.

  The Government had received advice from the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food and from the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC) in support of the proposed ban. In particular, the VPC's advice referred back to the principles set out in the 1969 report of the Joint Committee on the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine (the Swann Report) which proposed that antibiotics authorised for growth promotion should be restricted to those which have little or no application as therapeutic agents in man or animals and which will not impair the efficacy of a prescribed therapeutic drug or drugs through the development of resistant strains of organisms. The VPC noted that antibiotics similar or related to virginiamycin, spiramycin, tylosin and bacitracin zinc were regarded as vital for the treatment of some serious and potentially intractable infections in human patients. Accordingly, the VPC advised that their use should be phased out. This is, of course, also in line with a recommendation made in the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology's report on "Resistance to Antibiotics and other Antimicrobial Agents".

  The position of the authorisation of antibiotic growth promoters will be kept under review on the basis of scientific advice and in the light of the precautionary principle as agreed by the Council and the Commission. In particular, the Commission's Scientific Screening Committee will produce a general opinion on the subject of antibiotic resistance later this year.

  Your second question concerned a possible ban on imports into the EU of meat from animals which may have been fed antibiotic growth promoters which are the subject of the ban. In agreeing the ban, the Council, with the Commission, recognised the importance of the external dimension and emphasised the importance of protecting consumers' health and the competitive position of European producers, whilst complying with the EU's international commitments. The Council has invited the Commission to submit a report before30 June (ie before the ban takes effect) on all the public health, economic and legal implications of the antibiotic resistance issue with regard to the external dimension. The report will examine how to ensure that third countries comply with rules for antibiotic growth promoters which are at least equivalent to those laid down at Community level.

  Finally, you asked whether it is possible to test meat to establish whether animals from which it was taken had been fed with any of the banned antibiotic growth promoters. The short answer is that this will not be easy to do as the antibiotics in question are not absorbed in the gut of animals and residues will not, therefore, be present in meat. However, the use of these antibiotic growth promoters does lead to the build up of resistance in micro-organisms present in the gut and one potential route for transfer of resistance to man is through the contamination of carcasses with resistant micro-organisms at the time of slaughter. The report from the Commission on the external dimension will need to address this issue and we await it with interest.

7 February 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committeee, to Jeffrey Rooker MP, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

  I wrote to you concerning this proposal (now agreed) on 1 February and you very promptly responded on 7 February. The Sub-Committee considered your response on 24 February and has cleared the document.

  The Sub-Committee was grateful for the additional information you provided in your letter, and intends to keep the subject under review. They would therefore like to be kept informed of any developments in the situation; in particular, the contents of the Commission report due by 30 June and the opinion of the Commission's Scientific Screening Committee due later this year.

  The Sub-Committee is concerned that the Commission and the Government may have difficulty in reconciling their support for the ban with the problems of (a) prohibiting imports of affected meat without falling foul of WTO rules and (b) being able to test whether meat comes from animals which have been given the banned antibiotics. It is to be hoped that the situation will become clearer in a few months' time.

1 March 1999

Letter from Jeff Rooker MP, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  We corresponded earlier in the year about the ban on the use of four antibiotic growth promoters in agriculture, culminating in your letter to me of 1 March, which reported the views of Sub-Committee D. I am now writing to let you know that the long-awaited Opinion of the Commission's Scientific Steering Committee has been made available and I have enclosed a copy for information (not printed).

  The Steering Committee was asked to evaluate the current prevalence and development of antimicrobial resistance, examine its implications for human and animal health, particularly the development and management of infections, and make recommendations based on science.

  The Steering Committee concludes that the use of antimicrobial growth promoting agents from classes which are or may be used in human or veterinary medicine should be phased out as soon as possible and ultimately abolished. There is nothing new in this principle, which is in line with the 1969 Swann Committee recommendations, and we strongly support it. More significantly, the Steering Committee has added that "Efforts should also be made to replace those antimicrobials promoting growth with no known risk of influencing intestinal bacterial infections by non-antimicrobial alternatives" (paragraph 1.6). We would certainly wish to encourage the farming and pharmaceutical industries to develop such alternative practices.

  There are a number of specific recommendations that have a direct bearing on the use of antimicrobials in farming. The Steering Committee recommends tighter controls on the sale and use of antimicrobials, the preparation of "best practice" guidelines, and education for farmers, food and feed producers. We have had controls in place for some time but had already judged there to be a need to improve veterinary and farming practices. Consequently we are already co-operating, in consultation with Department of Health colleagues, with the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) group, set up by representatives of the major concerns involved to improve practices and to develop guidelines.

  We shall certainly wish to consider these, and other points in the Opinion, very carefully and take them fully into account in the development of our future policy on the use of antimicrobials in agriculture.

26 June 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999