Superbug fears over antibiotics for chickensgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent (Filed: 30/09/2002)
Most of the 14 million chickens sold every week in Britain are likely to be reared on antibiotics, despite fears that drugs overuse may create resistant "superbugs".
After pressure from vets, the poultry industry's standards watchdog has gone back on a pledge made two years ago to ban growth promoting drugs in chicken feed.
The industry says the decision to allow two antibiotic growth promoters will improve welfare and lead to a reduction in antibiotic use on farms.
But the Soil Association, which campaigns against growth promoters, gave a warning that one of the permitted drugs had been banned in Europe because of health concerns.
The change comes in the "little red tractor" kitemark scheme introduced in 2000 with backing from the Government and leading supermarkets.
The scheme was designed to ease consumer fears about conditions on intensive chicken farms and covers 85 per cent of birds sold in Britain.
When it was launched, it was announced that birds would have to be able to move freely, have a traceable life history and crucially, not be fed antibiotic growth promoters.
The drugs accelerate the growth of birds, allowing them to be slaughtered at a younger age.
As well as concerns about the unnatural growth rate, researchers warned that overuse of the growth promoters in farming could lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals and people.
The rules were changed quietly in June following concerns from supermarkets and vets about an increase in chicken health problems.
Two drugs, avilamycin and flavomycin, are now allowed on "specific recommendations of the responsible veterinarian".
According to Richard Young, of the Soil Association, the antibiotics are only licensed as feed additives and are designed to be given daily in small doses.
"Antibiotics help to produce cheap chickens and we are very concerned that a large proportion of the industry could be tempted to use them again," he said.
"Sick birds must, of course, be treated but the real reason behind this change is that many producers are still keeping birds too intensively and simply switching between drugs to mask the disease problems this causes.
"There are real concerns about the consequences for human health of using these drugs," he added.
Avilamycin has been banned in Denmark under a voluntary agreement after fears about the rise of superbugs. The EU is debating whether to phase out all antibiotic growth promoters by 2006.
The Soil Association has written to Margaret Beckett, the Environment Minister, asking for Government action.
It is campaigning for the poultry industry to move away from drug dependency, give birds more space, introduce fresh air into farms and improve their diets.
Nigel Horrox, of the British Veterinary Poultry Association, said the two antibiotics would not be widely used. "This provides vets with extra tools in the limited array for countering disease," he said.
"There are no implications for human health."
-- Anonymous, September 30, 2002