The use of existing antimicrobial drugs should be restricted and new ones should be developed, Environment and Public Health Committee MEPs said earlier this week.

In a vote on draft plans to update an EU law on veterinary medicines, MEPs advocated banning collective and preventive antibiotic treatment of animals.

They have also backed measures to stimulate research into new medicines.

MEP Francoise Grossetete (France) said that the vote is a big step forward for animal health and the fight against antibiotic resistance.

"With these new rules, we can better circumscribe and control the use of antibiotics in farm animals and thus reduce the risk that potential resistances will emerge.

"The text will also help to improve the availability of medicines and drive innovation forward, so as to expand the therapeutic arsenal available to vets.

"I welcome the broad consensus on this report, which should promote public health and consumer protection."

Grossetete's report was approved by 60 votes to two earlier this week.

Environment and Public Health Committee MEPs have said that veterinary medicines must not under any circumstances serve to improve performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry.

They also advocated limiting the prophylactic use of antimicrobials (i.e. as a preventive measure, in the absence of clinical signs of infection) to single animals and only when fully justified by a veterinarian.

Metaphylactic use (i.e. treating a group of animals when one shows signs of infection) must be restricted to clinically-ill animals and to single animals that are identified as being at a high risk of contamination, in order to prevent bacteria from spreading further in the group, they said.

MEPs also urged farm animal owners and keepers to use stocks with suitable genetic diversity, in densities that do not increase the risk of disease transmission, and to isolate sick animals from the rest of the group.

To help tackle antimicrobial resistance, the revised law would also empower the European Commission to designate antimicrobials which are to be reserved for human treatment.

Meanwhile, to encourage research into new antimicrobials, MEPs advocated incentives, including longer periods of protection for technical documentation on new medicines, commercial protection of innovative active substances, and protection for significant investments in data generated to improve an existing antimicrobial product or to keep it on the market.

In a separate vote, the committee approved by 53 votes to three a report by Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu (Romanian MEP), amending another law to reflect the fact that centralised marketing authorisation for veterinary medicinal products is being decoupled from that for medicines for humans.

The objectives of the legislative proposal on antimicrobials are interlinked. It aims to:

  • Increase the availability of veterinary medicinal products;
  • Reduce administrative burdens;
  • Stimulate competitiveness and innovation;
  • Improve the functioning of the internal market; and
  • Address the public health risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) recently warned that bacteria in humans, food and animals continue to show resistance to the most widely-used antimicrobials.

Both reports will be debated and put to a vote during the March/April plenary sessions in Strasbourg.