A pressure group called 'Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics' – formed by animal welfarists Compassion in World Farming and organic watchdogs the Soil Association – has told UK agriculture minister David Heath that routine use of antibiotics in food production is increasing the risk of antibiotic-resistant bugs affecting humans.
In particular, it claimed that campylobacter was now the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, affecting over 350,000 people a year, and that chickens were the source of between 50 and 80% of these cases.
A ban on fluoroquinolone in poultry production would bring the UK into line with the US, where the Food and Drug Administration stopped its use in 2005 because of increasing resistance in campylobacter. Denmark, Finland and Australia also do not use fluoroquinolones in poultry.
In the Alliance letter to the minister, Soil Association policy advisor Richard Young, said: "Since it is clear that voluntary action by the industry has been ineffective in reducing fluoroquinolone use, we now call upon you to work with the European Commission and other Member States to introduce new legislation to prohibit the use of these critically important antibiotics in poultry production, and ensure they are only used in other farm animal species in strictly controlled situations.
"We recognise this could result in a small increase in the retail price of chicken, but we believe that people would be willing to pay a little more to reduce the risks to their health and help safeguard the effectiveness of such an important class of antibiotics into the future."
The British Poultry Council has said in that only relatively small amounts of fluroquinolenes are now prescribed for poultry.
A joint statement with the NFU read: "The British poultry sector uses all antibiotics prudently and responsibly to ensure their availability and effectiveness in the future. Poultry veterinarians and farmers are aware of the importance of fluoroquinolones and certain other categories of antibiotics for use in human health. Only relatively small amounts of fluoroquinolones are now prescribed for poultry in the UK and rarely for flocks producing meat or eggs for consumption.
"The Poultry Industry is actively promoting Antibiotic Stewardship through continuous review of usage of all antibiotics in poultry flocks and their prescription only on the basis of a veterinary risk assessment of need and sensitivity testing to determine the effectiveness of the selected antibiotic. This reduces usage and ensures the most appropriate product is being prescribed.
"While the poultry industry agrees with the overall objective of the Alliance to promote responsible use and to use the newer classes of antibiotics only when necessary, it does not agree with an outright ban on fluoroquinolones as these medicines are sometimes needed to treat particular infections that damage the health and welfare of birds just as in humans."