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Cut-back on antimicrobial use, say experts

The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) which advises the Commission on matters in the field of consumer health and food safety has unanimously agreed that there must be an immediate reduction in the use of antimicrobial products. This is necessary, the SSC says, to minimise t...
The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) which advises the Commission on matters in the field of consumer health and food safety has unanimously agreed that there must be an immediate reduction in the use of antimicrobial products. This is necessary, the SSC says, to minimise the possibility of microbes developing resistance to the very chemicals used to combat them. Scientists should adopt a core strategy to prevent inappropriate use of these drugs, they say, and apply it equally across each of the areas of human medicine, veterinary medicine, animal production and plant protection.

Microorganisms are becoming increasingly resistant to antimicrobials, including antibiotics, making it more and more difficult to fight off infections. Scientists believe that this resistance results from cavalier use of antimicrobials in medicine, agriculture and in the home (in cleaning products for example). Additional causes include improper use of prescribed courses of antibiotics and increasing levels of geographical mobility spreading newer, tougher bacteria around the world. That said, there is currently an absence of data reflecting any causal link between antimicrobial usage and resistance, but many scientists, the SSC included, are calling for urgent action.

Such actions should be implemented right across the European Union, and preferably on a global basis, they say. As more than fifty percent of antimicrobials used in Europe are used in human medicine, medical doctors will have an important role to play by reducing any unnecessary prescription of antimicrobial drugs. The SSC also recommends that tighter controls be placed on the sale, supply and distribution of antimicrobials. It calls for the development of best practice guidelines on the use of specific agents to treat human and animal disease, and the establishment of educational programmes for healthcare professionals, farmers, food producers, industries and consumers, to increase their awareness of the problem, and to encourage methods that might help to prevent the spread of diseases.

The experts recommend that an EU-wide monitoring system should be set up while the development of alternatives to antimicrobials should be encouraged. They also propose that antimicrobials used as growth promoters in animal production should be phased out. Ultimately however, the SSC says it would like to see antimicrobial use phased-out from animal husbandry practices as well as from human and veterinary medicine.

The SSC report to the European Commission will provide the grounds for a comprehensive response to the problem of antimicrobial resistance, with implications for changes in industry, medicine and agriculture.

The report will shortly be available on the Internet at:

URL: http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/ssc/outcome_en.html

An international scientific conference on antimicrobial resistance is also being organised by the European Commission's DG XXIV (Consumer policy and consumer health protection). This will be held in Brussels on 20 July 1999. Details of the programme are available from DG XXIV's website at:

URL: http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24
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