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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK

Europe urges curbs on antibiotics

There are fears that some bugs are becoming resistant to antibiotics

The use of antibiotics in medicine and farming should be reduced because of fears that it could increase resistance to treatments for serious diseases, say European experts.

The European Union's Scientific Steering Committee published its full report on antimicrobials, which include antibiotics and growth promoters, on Thursday.

The committee's 16 experts express "great concern" about the threat to human health of antibiotic resistance.

They say bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

The problem is compounded by the fact that "no truly novel" antibiotics have been developed in the last decade.

This means there have been increasing difficulties in treating some diseases, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

The report says: "Government and all users of antimicrobials should urgently address these problems."

It adds that the absence of a clear link between antibiotic resistance and overuse of antibiotics should not be an excuse to do nothing.


More than 50% of antibiotics in Europe are used in human medicine. The rest are used in farming, for example, to protect animals from disease and to promote animal growth.

[ image: The committee wants an eventual ban on animal growth promoters]
The committee wants an eventual ban on animal growth promoters
The committee wants animal growth promoters to be phased out entirely.

And it says doctors have a vital role to play in reducing the use of antibiotics and that they and consumers should be better educated about the dangers of the drugs.

It also wants tighter controls on the distribution of antibiotics, best practice guidelines on when they should be used and more research into developing alternative methods of treatment.

The committee says there is no evidence yet that antibiotic resistant marker genes can be passed from genetically modified plants to micro-organisms.

But it recommends that marker genes be removed from plant cells where possible to ensure this does not occur.


The European Commission will assess the committee's report and see whether any legislation needs to be drawn up as a result.

It says it has already banned more than 20 antibiotics used in animal feed since the 1970s. In December, it banned four.

It has also taken action to set up systems for surveilling and collecting data on antibiotic resistance in animals.

Doctors in the UK have already been advised to reduce their prescribing of antibiotics.

A report by a government advisory committee last year recommended that GPs should not prescribe antibiotics for conditions caused by viruses, such as coughs, colds or some forms of sore throat, since they are effective only against bacterial illnesses.

The move was a response to fears about drug resistant bugs.

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The emerging superbug

A brief history of antibiotics

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A future for antibiotics?

Dos and don'ts of taking antibiotics

When 'no' is the hardest word

Why farm antibiotics are a worry