Prudent use of veterinary antibiotics


Sir, – I refer to your article “McDonald’s moves to cut antibiotics in beef” (News, December 11th).

The article states that, “Antibiotics are frequently used in animal agriculture for two main reasons: to prevent the spread of disease and to promote growth”.

Taken in the European context this statement is not correct; veterinary antibiotics in the EU and in Ireland are used when necessary to treat animals with bacterial disease, in line with prudent-use guidance. In some situations, where there is a risk of spread of bacterial disease in a group of animals, antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent the spread of that disease within the animal population at risk. This serves to protect the health and welfare of the animals, and has the potential to protect public health by mitigating the risk of disease spread to the human population.

The unnecessary use of antimicrobials increases resistance risk, endangering both animal and human health and welfare. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the emergence of bacteria and other microbes resistant to antibiotics, is a major global public health threat that is being addressed in Ireland by the implementation of a national action plan against AMR.

It should be noted that a European Union-wide ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed came into effect on January 1st, 2006. The ban was the final step in the phasing out of antibiotics used in food animals for non-medicinal purposes. There are strict controls on antibiotic use in Ireland and antibiotics must be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon prior to administration to animals.

It is important to note the vital role that antibiotics play in the treatment of disease in both public and animal health. Antibiotics have revolutionised not only human health but also animal health. When used responsibly they are an important tool to protect animal health and welfare and reduce disease and suffering. The key objective in terms of use of antibiotics in tackling AMR is the prudent use of antibiotics, ie using antibiotics as little as possible, as much as necessary. – Yours, etc,


Press Officer,

Department of Agriculture,

Food and the Marine,

Agriculture House,

Kildare Street, Dublin 2.