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Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 17:04 GMT

World: Europe

EU bans farm antibiotics

Antibiotics are used in animal feed to stop disease spreading through a herd

The use of four antibiotics in animal feed has been banned throughout Europe because of the possible risks to human health.

Twelve EU agriculture ministers including Britain's Nick Brown, endorsed the Commission proposal, with Belgium, Portugal and Spain abstaining.

The ban will be phased in over six months, with the use of the antibiotics outlawed in Britain from July 1 next year.

Monday's vote was demanded by Sweden, which argues that at least four growth-promoting antibiotics may be helping to produce drug-resistant bacteria that could be passed to humans through the food chain.

The European Commission says that overuse of antibiotics in farming could reduce their effectiveness on people.

Risks outweigh cost

Speaking before the vote, UK Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said the potential danger to human health would outweigh an increase in the cost of meat.

He said until the effect of such drugs was definitely known, it was best to act cautiously.

"More scientific research is needed because the decision is being taken on what might happen in the future.

"On the precautionary principle, it's right to suspend the use of these four growth promoters until more evidence emerges," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

But Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo said the UK should halt imports of animals and meat from outside the EU that had been given the antibiotics.

He said: "The import of food into the UK at standards lower than those which UK producers are required to meet places an unfair burden on British farmers and leaves the British consumer at risk of eating substandard food."

'No evidence' for a ban

Pharmaceutical companies have said there is no scientific evidence to warrant a ban and some were thought to be contemplating a legal challenge to the measure.

Manufacturers of antibiotics stand to lose millions of pounds with the ban approved.

Farmers also fear that disease would get out of control in the absence of the antibiotics in the animal feed.

And opponents of the ban argued that it would push the retail price of meat up by 10%.

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