Is Europe willing to make animals the scapegoat through a disproportionate focus on their role in AMR?

Unlike human medicines veterinary medicines undergo a thorough environmental risk assessment, explains AnimalhealthEurope Secretary General, Roxane Feller.

Animal Health | Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Roxane Feller

Roxane Feller is Secretary General of AnimalhealthEurope

08 May 2018

Animal Health Europe

Don’t forget, animals, just like people, get sick. No matter how well they are cared for, fed and housed, or even when preventive health measures have been taken, some animals still become ill with infectious bacterial diseases, requiring an antibiotic treatment.

Animal health is an essential prerequisite for maintaining high standards of animal welfare.

If animals get sick and are not treated, not only do they suffer as we do, but the impact of animal disease has ramifications for our health, both in terms of food safety and transmission of diseases to people.


So why, when it comes to ensuring the availability of the tools needed to ensure animal health, do some actors appear to be willing to sacrifice the health of Europe’s animals, without evidence that such actions will actually avert the risks to human health?

Ensuring our health, and that of our animals and the environment in which we live, is dependent on finding a balance on measures taken to protect health.

When it comes to addressing challenges such as increasing resistance to antibiotics, the balance can at times become skewed in one direction.

While many public health officials and associations are realising the role they can play in averting, or at least slowing this health disaster, the political discussions and concrete actions proposed have often unevenly focused primarily on the use of antibiotics in animals.

The animal medicines industry in Europe is committed to playing an active role in the global health challenge of antibiotic resistance.

"The animal medicines industry in Europe is committed to playing an active role in the global health challenge of antibiotic resistance"

Actions taken by the industry over the past years such as awareness-raising on the need to use antibiotics responsibly, transparency of sales data, and seeking innovative ways to address infectious disease, amongst others, serve to demonstrate our proactive position in addressing the issue.

We keenly acknowledge the need for thorough discussion on the different factors contributing to antibiotic resistance, and how best to provide science-based and proportionate guidance in order to prioritise action.

But we remain worried that the health of Europe’s animals is not even a close second when it comes to the priority focus of socio-political exchanges on antibiotic resistance.

As Members of the European Parliament delve into this topic once again during trilogue negotiations on the new EU rules for animal medicines, the subject of ‘AMR’ has also sparked an own-initiative report on a European One Health Action Plan Against AMR drafted by MEP Karin Kadenbach.

Discussion on antibiotics and antibiotic resistance have now led to proposals for new evaluations of the environmental credentials of animal medicines, as well as the procedures that are put in place to guarantee that they are not harmful to our environment.

"A One Health balance and rational thinking must prevail when it comes to the new legislation for veterinary medicines"

Unlike human medicines however, veterinary medicines already undergo a thorough environmental risk assessment as part of the overall benefit-risk assessment.

This requirement has been part of the EU veterinary medicines legislation since 1992 and has provided the necessary safeguards to avoid environmentally harmful products to be sold ever since.

So, when it comes to licensing animal medicines in Europe, if the benefit-risk assessment for any product is deemed negative by authorities, then the authorisation for the placing that product on the market can be denied on environmental grounds.

In that respect, the cornerstones of the approval process for any veterinary medicine already have a built-in One Health approach, with procedures evaluating the safety for: the user; the animal; the consumer and the environment - right from the outset.

Nevertheless, the animal health industry joins other stakeholders in encouraging further research into the potential correlation between the existence of medicines residues in the environment and the occurrence of antibiotic resistance in humans.

In fact, we believe that this must be one of the first priority actions encouraged in the forthcoming Commission Communication presenting the Strategic Approach on Pharmaceuticals in the Environment.

A One Health balance and rational thinking must prevail when it comes to the new legislation for veterinary medicines. What is sure, is that antibiotics will always be needed to save the lives of animals struck by a bacterial infection, and they need to be used responsibly to maintain their efficacy.

Whatever the case, when used responsibly as needed, antibiotics, like any other animal health product, support the health and welfare of Europe’s animals. They contribute to the efficient production of food, and protect public health, while minimising the impact on the environment.

Responsible Use practices entail: appropriate biosecurity, good housing and ventilation, good hygiene, appropriate nutrition, monitoring of animal health and welfare, animal health planning, use of diagnostics, regular vaccination, and using and maintaining the pharmacovigilance system when necessary, as well as the use of antibiotics under veterinary prescription, as required by law.

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