HL Deb 04 November 1996 vol 575 cc34-5WA
Lord Walton of Detchant

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they support the decision of two member states of the European Union to ban the use of Avoparcin, an antibiotic feed additive which has been used in agriculture worldwide for over 20 years, in view of the recommendation of the Scientific Committee for Animal Nutrition (SCAN) that this substance "does not establish a risk to human health, animal health or the environment".

Lord Lucas

The Government take very seriously the possibility of the development of antibiotic resistance in humans and animals as a result of the use of antibiotics in animal feed. This is carefully examined as part of the safety assessment of applications for authorisation for antimicrobial products, and is kept under review by the independent scientific Veterinary Products Committee (VPC).

During 1995, Denmark and Germany took unilateral action under Article 11 (Safeguard Clause) of Directive 70/524/EEC banning all uses of avoparcin in their territories because of an alleged link between the use of avoparcin as a feed additive and the development of bacterial resistance to vancomycin, which is used in human medicine. The European Commission asked its Scientific Committee for Animal Nutrition (SCAN) to consider the data presented by Denmark and Germany in support of their actions.

SCAN concluded, on the basis of the Danish and German data, that the evidence presented did not establish a risk to human health, animal health or the environment caused by avoparcin. However, SCAN also recommended that the use of avoparcin should be reconsidered immediately if it were shown that glycopeptide-resistant enterococci of animal origin infected man, or transferred their resistance determinants to human microflora in vivo, or contributed to the prevalence or severity of infections in man caused by vancomycins resistant enterococci (VRE). It also recommended that the European Commission urgently consider provisions for the monitoring of microbial resistance patterns in general and, in particular, to those consequent on the use of antimicrobial feed additives.

The VPC welcomed the SCAN report and opinion, but expressed some concern on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics as feed additives in animals, and over the misuse of antibiotics. The VPC was reassured that vancomycin resistance could not be transferred to other micro-organisms such as campylobacter, E. coli or salmonella.

It is known that vancomycin-resistance in Enterococcus faecium is due to the presence of genes, organised in a cluster, whose products confer the ability on the micro organism to grow in the presence of vancomycin. An important aspect of this subject is confirming whether or not the vancomycin-resistance gene clusters from human and animal isolates of Enterococcus faecium are identical. Preliminary investigations have been carried out at the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry on the presence and nucleotide sequence of three intergenic regions present in the vancomycin-resistance gene clusters reported by other workers. This work has not yet been published. However, the patterns observed to date from poultry strains of VRE are not the same as those observed in the human strains and the data indicate that the vancomycin-resistance gene clusters in Enterococcus faecium strains derived from humans and poultry are not identical. The VPC agreed that the transmission of VRE from poultry to man is not proven and there is no evidence that animal VRE are the same as human VRE.

The Government consider that any future decisions on the use of avoparcin as a feed additive must be taken on the basis of good scientific evidence. Given the current opinions of the SCAN and the VPC, the Government do not support the decisions of Germany and Denmark to ban the use of avoparcin as a feed additive.