Defra shelves controversial antibiotic rules
DEFRA has agreed to shelve controversial plans to ban the advertising of antibiotics to farmers that would have starved them of vital information to keep their animals in good health.
In a dramatic eleventh-hour turnaround Defra has today (Thursday, December 30) rejected advice from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and instead backed an industry campaign, led by the Farmers Guardian, to treat farmers as experts.
FG editor Emma Penny described the decision as ‘victory for common sense’.
Proposals from the VMD would have seen animal health companies banned from marketing antimicrobial medicines directly to farmers, including antibiotics used to treat common livestock diseases, such as mastitis and pneumonia.
The proposals were to bring the UK in line with mainland Europe, where such marketing is already banned at livestock events and in the press, as farmers are classed as ‘members of the public’.
A unique interpretation of the rules in the UK sees farmers classed as ‘professionals keepers of animals’ and, therefore, exempt from the ban.
The VMD proposed the change because of concerns that marketing encouraged farmers to put pressure on their vet to prescribe new products, which could encourage antimicrobial resistance, affecting both animal and human health.
However, the proposals were met with fierce opposition by many within the livestock industry. Farmers Guardian led the fight, arguing it was essential farmers knew about different treatment options in order to have meaningful discussions with their vets.
In a Farmers Guardian survey of more than 500 farmers, almost 96 per cent said they were against the proposed ban, and 98 per cent said it was ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ they were kept up-to-date on disease issues and any new treatments available, highlighting the importance of such marketing.
Farmers Guardian’s ‘Backing Britain’s Professional Farmers’ campaign, which called for those in farming to be recognised as highly trained professionals, also received huge backing, with more than 1,000 people signing up to our Facebook page.
In announcing that the ban would not come into force, Farming Minister Jim Paice said farmers should get the professional recognition they deserve.
He said: “Farmers know their animals and don’t want to do anything to harm them or the public. They should therefore be treated as the experts they are.
“Antimicrobial resistance is complex and Defra keeps this area under close scrutiny, consulting regularly with experts and interested parties to ensure all available knowledge is taken into account.”
FG editor Emma Penny said: “Livestock farmers look after their animals 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it is vital they know what is available in terms of antimicrobial medicines so they can talk meaningfully to their vet about treatment options.
“Our on this subject gained more than 400 responses from farmers in less than three days, which shows the depth of feeling about it.
“I am pleased Farmers Guardian’s campaign has been able to help farmers retain their professional status and the right to know what is available to treat their stock,” she said.