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.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Thank goodness for common sense at last prevailing when it comes to DEFRA and anything linked to government. The hoops that we have to jump through, not to mention the expenses we incur simply to be able to keep and effectively market animals should indeed be enough to see farmers classified as expert animal keepers. Well done to DEFRA and well done to the FG for its successful campaign.

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  • at last our voices have been heard, isnt it amazing what we can do if we all pull together, lets hope we can all work together again and get this industry back on its feet to encourage this generation to stay if they can hold out and the next generation to be interested

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  • A marvellous u turn thanks to FG, Jim Paice and Defra. One of the problems i believe Defra have is the lack of knowledge in practical agriculture of a large number of the personnel running the departments and the desire by farmers to farm to high welfare standards. I also get annoyed with all of the farm assurance rules and inspectors that make farmers out to be unprofessional.

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  • I'm fully supportive of our British Farmers being recognised as the experts. Many hold generations of knowledge and experience which is unmeasurable.
    The FG must be doubly pleased with their efforts; protecting their revenue generated through such advertising on their pages.
    Responsible prescribing and selection of antimicrobial medicine is essential to avoiding premature development of resistance. Let’s hope our professional and responsible farmers have built up enough resistance to turn a blind eye to the advertisements. We all should be backing education campaigns not advertisement campaigns.

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  • Support Our Farmers who do an incredibly difficult job whilst hamstrung by copius rad tape, paperwork & late payments. Makes a change for Defra to do something right! Well done FG & Jim.

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