Summary: As had been widely expected, the European Commission on December 10 put forward its formal proposal for a Council Regulation banning four antibiotics in animal feed, which will be voted on at the Farm Council in Brussels on December 14/15. The ban will affect virginiamycin (made by Pfizer), spiramycin (Rhone Poulenc), tylosin phosphate (Elanco) and bacitracin-zinc (Alpharma), all of which are used in animal feed as well as in human medicine. It is now scheduled to apply from July 1, 1999 onwards (and not January 1, 1999, as previously recommended). As the proposal had received a simple majority of votes in favour in the Standing Committee on Animal Nutrition on December 2, it is highly likely that it will be taken on board, either by the Council (if it receives a qualified majority), or by the Commission (if it only receives a simple majority), despite strong appeals from the pharmaceuticals industry.

Commenting on the proposal on December 10, EU Commissioner for Agriculture Franz Fischler said that in view of the growing evidence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics and the fact that feed additives which account for 15% of all antibiotics used in the European Union contribute to this development, it would be "irresponsible of the EU institutions not to take immediate action to minimise the risk". While acknowledging that this measure will have economic consequences for both the pharmaceutical industry and farmers, the protection of human health, the Commissioner argued, far outweighs any economic considerations. At present, there are eight different antibiotics authorised within the EU for use as additives in animal feed. They are mainly used in feed rations for pigs and poultry reared in intensive production systems, in order to control certain bacteria and disease development. They can bring the farmer higher levels of feed conversion efficiency, which in turn boosts production, by influencing the digestibility of animal feed and the intestinal bacterial flora of animals. On joining the EU in 1994, Sweden and Finland, which respectively had a total and partial ban on the use of antibiotics in feedstuffs, were given derogations allowing them to maintain these restrictions until the end of 1997 in the case of Finland and December 31, 1998 in Sweden's case. After its derogation expired, Finland maintained its ban on tylosin phosphate and spiramycin through the safeguard clause and Denmark introduced a ban on virginiamycin on the...

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