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Officials must curb antibiotics, Greens say

Officials at key meeting this week must curb antibiotics, Greens say

Officials must move swiftly this week to curb agricultural use of antibiotics, Green Party Health Spokeserperson Sue Kedgley said today. Otherwise, medical advances of the past 50 years could be undermined by farming practices, she said.

Ms Kedgley was commenting on a report by an expert panel on the use of antibiotics in animal feed. The report is to be considered by the Animal Remedies Board on Wednesday, October 20. The report confirms that 57 percent of the antibiotics used in New Zealand are given to farm animals, Ms Kedgley said. "That's an extraordinary 53 tonnes of antibiotics," Ms Kedgley said. "At least a quarter of these antibiotics are routinely fed to perfectly healthy animals in their commercially prepared feed to make them grow more quickly. The government must move swiftly to make it illegal to feed antibiotics to farm animals without veterinary approval. "When you and I want to use an antibiotic, we have to get a prescription from the doctor," she said. "The same rules should apply to animals. They should not be available 'over the counter'."

The Greens also want to ban the practice of using antibiotics as growth promotants, Ms Kedgley said.

The report also confirms that 1.2 tonnes of antibiotics are sprayed onto fruit trees and tomato plants to help control fireblight. "Yet the government does not test fruit and tomatoes to see whether they contain antibiotic residues," Ms Kedgley said.

The over-use of antibiotics in agriculture demonstrated in the report was alarming, given the findings of a recent British study that antibiotics fed to farm animals results in the emergence of resistant bacteria and superbugs which can infect humans, she said. Superbugs are emerging in New Zealand hospitals, and common strains of bacteria of animal origin, such as salmonella, E coli and Staphyloccocus, are becoming resistant to a wide variety of antibiotics. Scientists warn it is only a matter of time before antibiotics will become ineffective in treating many human diseases. Ms Kedgley welcomed the panel's recommendation that some antibiotics that are routinely used as growth promotants and for prophylaxis be banned. However she said the panel's refusal to call for a ban on the use of all antibitoic growth promotants, or even to require that they be under veterinary control, indicated that it was putting commercial considerations ahead of the long-term health of New Zealanders.

The report offers no explanation as to why the panel is not prepared to recommend that antibiotic growth promotants be banned, or put under veterinary control, she said. Ms Kedgley also contested the panel's conclusion that antibiotic resistance is not a major problem in New Zealand. The panel acknowledges that there has been virtually no testing or monitoring for antibiotic resistance in New Zealand, so it has no basis to make such an assertion, she said.

The amount of antibiotic residues remaining in meat and horticultural products was unclear, she said, because only a small number of antibiotics (out of the 260 different antibiotic products on the market) were tested for by the Ministry of Agriculture. Nor were fruit and tomatoes tested by government to see if they contained antibiotic residues she said. Ms Kedgley also welcomed the panel's recommendation that antibiotic marker genes should not be allowed to be used in any genetically engineered organisms used in New Zealand.

ends

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