Friday, November 13, 1998 Published at 09:02 GMT
Europe seeks antibiotic ban for animals
Experts fear that feeding pigs and chicken antibiotics could harm humans
European Union experts have called for a ban on four types of antibiotics fed to animals, amid fears that they are causing human resistance to medicines.
The EU said the recommendation was a precautionary measure.
About 15% of all sales of antibiotics in the EU go into animal feed - mainly food for chickens and pigs.
A ban is likely to be a big blow to the £500m a year antibiotics industry in the EU.
The experts say there are fears people eating the meat of antibiotic-fed animals and birds may lower people's resistance to medicines.
Overuse of antibiotics
There are already wide concerns in the medical world that overprescription of antibiotics by doctors is leading to drug-resistant forms of some viruses and infections.
An EU official said: "The antibiotics passed through the food chain, when added to the antibiotics we take directly against bacteria, may be lowering our resistance to disease."
The EU experts recommend a ban on Tysolin phosphate, Bacitracin Zinc, Spiramycin and Virginamycin.
They are also considering four other antibiotics.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Frans Fischler will now ask EU farm ministers to approve the ban.
Denmark and Sweden already enforce a ban on the drugs, but some ministers may demand more concrete proof about the harmful effects of antibiotics.
Farmers are also likely to lose out as antibiotics help promote growth in animals as well as keeping them healthy.
They say there is no scientific evidence to back the EU recommendation.
A spokesman for the National Farmers Union said: "The transfer of antibiotic response from animals to humans is yet to be proved. If Brussels has any more information, we would love to see it."
The UK's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food says it is considering its response to the recommendation, but added that it was broadly supportive of it.
A spokesman said: "We prefer farmers not to use antibiotics on their livestock at all.
"If they must be used for animal welfare reasons, then they should be done so in strict accordance to industry and veterinary guidelines."