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Overview of This Week’s Poultry News

29 March 2012, at 11:59pm

ANALYSIS – Pressure has been mounting in the US and the UK this week to reduce the use of antibiotics in farm animals, writes senior editor, Jackie Linden. British vets have questioned the assertion by the Soil Association that the evidence for a link between antibiotic use in animals and resistance in <em>E. coli</em> is ‘overwhelming’. In trade news, the US is to appeal a WTO ruling against mandatory Country of Origin Labelling of some foods, including poultry meat.

In the US, a judge has issued a landmark ruling that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must act to limit the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought last year by a coalition of consumer of advocacy groups suing the FDA over its inaction in addressing the growing public health threat posed by the daily dosing of antibiotics in livestock feed and the rise of antibiotic–resistant bacteria.

The lawsuit came on the heels of an FDA report released to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter confirming that 80 per cent of antibiotics are sold for use in agriculture.

“It’s about time,’ said Congresswoman Slaughter. “The FDA has been dragging its feet on this for 35 years.”

In response to a report entitled ‘E. coli Superbugs on Farms and Food’, the Soil Association in the UK is recommending that the preventative use of antibiotics in healthy animals is phased out, and the overall use of antibiotics on farms halved within five years.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has urged caution over the findings of a Soil Association literature review, questioning the claim that there is ‘overwhelming evidence’ and in contrast, it points to the scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority.

In a statement, BVA said: “Few studies designed to assess risk factors for ESBL and/or AmpC occurrence in animals are available. The use of antimicrobials is a risk factor for selection and spread of resistant clones, resistance genes and plasmids.”

The opinion then goes on to state: “How widespread ESBL–carrying bacteria are in food-producing animals in the breeding, rearing and fattening sectors is generally unknown.”

At the World Trade Organization (WTO), the office of the US Trade Representative has opted to appeal the WTO ruling on Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) brought by Canada.

Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) is a USDA marketing programme mandated by the 2002 Farm Bill which requires retailers to notify their customers of the country of origin of beef, veal, goat meat, lamb, pork, poultry, fish and other perishable agricultural commodities.

In November, WTO ruled that the US COOL requirements were in violation of WTO agreements.

Canada claimed that the COOL requirements meant Canadian products were being treated unfavourably, with some US packers not accepting Canadian livestock, or purchasing less.

Finally, turning to bird flu news, the H5N1 subtype of the virus has continued its spread across Nepal and in Bangladesh, a series of outbreaks has cut chicken production and raised the prices of meat and eggs. Indonesia has announced a sixth victim has died of the disease so far this year.