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Experts' advice ignored on antibiotic promotants

The Animal Remedies Board has this week ignored the advice of an expert panel about antibiotic growth promotants, Green Party Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley said today.

"The board has decided to allow the poultry, pig and other agricultural industries to continue to feed antibiotics to perfectly healthy animals to make them grow more quickly, without veterinary supervision," she said.

"Clearly, at a time of rising antibiotic resistance and the emergence of superbugs in New Zealand, the Animal Remedies Board is allowing industry pressure to take priority over the health risk to New Zealanders posed by the extraordinary high use of antibiotics in agriculture."

Ms Kedgley was commenting on the response this week of the Animal Remedies Board to the recommendations of the Expert Panel Review on Antibiotics and Infeed use of Antibiotics in New Zealand.

The expert panel recommended that a range of antibiotics such as tylosin and other microlides, bacitran, virginiamycin, avoparcin, bacitran and fluoroquinolones no longer be permitted to be used as growth promotants, she said. The Animal Remedies Board ignored these recommendations and has taken stalling action instead in the form of a vague recommendation to undertake a risk assessment of the possible connection between the use of antibiotics in animals and the spread of human resistance.

"Instead of procrastinating, the board should move swiftly to make it illegal to feed antibiotics to farm animals without veterinary approval," Ms Kedgley said. "When you and I want to use an antibiotic, we have to get a prescription from the doctor. The same rules should apply to animals. They should not be available 'over the counter'."

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The practice of using antibiotics as growth promotants should be banned, she said.

"The report confirms that 57% of the antibiotics used in New Zealand are given to farm animals," Ms Kedgley said. "That's an extraordinary 53 tonnes of antibiotics. At least a quarter of these antibiotics are routinely fed to perfectly healthy animals in their commercially prepared to make them grow more quickly.

"The report also confirms 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."

The over-use of antibiotics in agriculture demonstrated in the report is 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, Ms Kedgley 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. Already diseases like tuberculosis are becoming resistant to many antibiotics, she said.


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