Broad-based Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue Proposes Tighter Controls of Antimicrobial Use on the Farm
Last week in Brussels, Belgium, consumer organizations representing both American and European consumers approved a resolution calling on governments to reduce their use of antimicrobials in farm animals to ensure the continued effectiveness of those drugs for treating human illnesses. The resolution urged governments to ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic purposes in food-producing animals and to adopt policies requiring veterinarians to determine when the use of the drugs is needed.
The resolution states that a number of factors contribute to the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, including the use of antibiotics in human medicine and its excessive use in animal husbandry. It states, “With regard to animal farming, antimicrobials are not just used to cure infections, but also routinely added to livestock feed and/or water to prevent infections in healthy animals and as growth promoters.”
The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) is a forum for consumer organizations in the United States and Europe to develop consumer policy recommendations on important food and trade issues. The 12th Annual Meeting of the organization was held in Brussels on June 21, 2011.
Ensuring the safety of food was a priority area discussed at the meeting. Caroline Smith DeWaal, the Director of Food Safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Co-Chair of the TACD Food Policy Committee, discussed the resolution at a plenary session with Commissioner John Dalli, the European Commissioner of Health and Consumer Affairs.
“The recent outbreak of foodborne illnesses in Germany illustrated the enormous challenge of food safety. That tragedy is a reminder that the biological world does not stand still or wait for sensible new policies to be adopted.” DeWaal said. “It is constantly moving, and governments must develop policies that anticipate problems before they erupt into major outbreaks.”
The resolution on the use of antimicrobials adopted by TACD follows the recommendations issued during World Health Day 2011 by the World Health Organization (WHO), which called for governments to reduce the need for antimicrobial use on the farm through better policies and animal husbandry practices.
The TACD resolution urged that the use in animals of drugs that are critically important to human medicine be significantly reduced or eliminated, along with a total ban on the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in animal and food production. In addition, the resolution calls on governments to create and fund systems to monitor the use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. National surveillance systems should operate farm-to-table and integrate the findings of public health, veterinary, and food safety laboratories.
Also discussing food policy challenges related to food safety was Sue Davies, the Chief Policy Adviser for Which? (a consumer advocacy organization based in the United Kingdom) and the EU Co-Chair of the TACD Food Policy Committee. Davies remarked, “[it is] a critical time for food policy as many issues are coming together and need to be tackled effectively to ensure that consumers can make healthy and safe food choices – whether that’s expectations of quality, origin, or the ability to act on ethical or other concerns.” She also mentioned the significance of the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany in highlighting how food safety must be addressed. She stated that governments need to be alert to new and emerging risks, especially in the face of an increasingly complex and globalized food supply chain.