17/11/2011 Françoise Grossetête : "These days we must consider antibiotics as the very last resort"

Today the European Commission published a five year plan of action in the fight against bacterial resistance. The basis for the publication was the adoption of a resolution to this effect by the European Parliament at the end of October. Françoise Grossetête, the European deputy, (France, EPP) who initiated this resoltion, explains the main issues. :One of the issues outlined in the resolution is that there is inadequate information available to citizens on the use of antibiotics. In France, we know the famous campaign ‘Antibiotics are not automatic,’ but despite this, old habits die hard…

Françoise Grossetête
: Yes indeed, old habits do die hard. In Europe, we have seen too much use of antibiotics and often their mis-usuage. That is why today there are bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. E.Coli is an example of this. It actually caused 76 deaths in Europe last june. This bacteria was very virulent, and very resistant to medication, antibiotics amougst them.  So, we have a real problem. In hospitals, hospital-acquired illnesses are very difficult to treat, because there are infections that are very resistant to antibiotics.

We need to look at the usage of antibiotics in human medicine and in veterinary medicine. We have realised that  there is excessive usages of antibiotics in veterinary medicine and some farmers use prophylactic antibiotic treatment on their herds. So, such usage in herds destined for human consumption is particularly dangerous for our health, as we find traves of antibiotics in milk, in meat and even in water. : So, this transmission of resistance to antiobiotics from animals to man could lead to, in order to protect consumers, the implementation of a traceability system for animals that do have this prophylactic antibiotic treatment ?

Françoise Grossetête
: We have already implemented a traceability system for cattle herds following the mad cow crisis. Now, it seems that we must create the same type of system for sheep and also for poultry as there is extensive use of antibiotics in these sectors.

A few years ago, the German authorities found bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics present in eggs. This shows that traceability, like we have for bovine products, must be applied, and this is the commitment that we have made for other animal products. :  In the EP resolution that was adopted at the end of October 2011, deputies asked the commission to implement an early warning and reaction system for the new resistance mechanisms and the resistant strains. Could you tell us more about it ?

Françoise Grossetête
: The sooner we know about a problem, the sooner we can try to resolve it. So we really need to implement this alert system. But we also need to have more data on antibiotic consumption, in human medicine as well as veterinary medicine, so as to have an idea of what is happening within the European Union.

We also need to promote education and training for healthcare professionals, and inform the public. How many parents have asked their paediatrician to give antibiotics to their child although it was not really necessary ?  What we want to do is strenghten the prevention and control of infections, especially in hospitals.

We also hope to implement a new directive on animal health so as to highlight disease prevention by reducing the use of antibiotics, using vaccinations where possible and encourage the pharmaceutical industry to look for new molecules. For the past fifteen years the pharamceutical industry has not produced new medication. So we risk serious problems as bacteria are becoming resistant. We are going to have to find other solutions.

Now we need to consider the use of antibiotics as the last resort, that’s to say the last option when there are no others, in both human and veterinary medicine. :  In all the sectors you have mentioned (prevention, research, etc) is there one European country that is more advacned than others that could serve as a model for the EU ?

Françoise Grossetête
: In reality, we are now faced with serious health problems. There are several things we need to do. First we need to establish, precisely and reliably, which countries use more antibiotics than others : France, Germany and Greece are countries that use them too much. Prevention campaigns in France have been created because of this problem.

Whatsmore, in addition to informing health professionals and the public, these recommendations are also important for veterinary medicine,  that needs to realise the risk of cross-contimination between animal and man, as this is already taking place. The promotion of public/private partnerships to research new molecules and better international coordination within the framework of the World Heath Organisation are also initiatives we should undertake, with the support of the European Centre for  disease prevention and control.

All of these initiatives will probably be launched at the same time. However research into new medication may take some time. So, in the interim, we must implement actions to decrease the use of antibiotics. :  During the debates, Jo Leinen highlighted that certain colleagues in the Commission for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety were lobbied by farmers. Could you explain to use what might concern professionals in this sector with regard to the implementing this legislation ?

Françoise Grossetête
: In the weeks coming up to the vote on the resolution, it’s true that there was a lobby by certain farmers. There was also a considerable vetinarian’s lobby, especially in Germany. The systematic use of prophylactic antibiotics as an easy option, was one of the reasons behind this lobby. It is essentially a system that is used by many farmers. I would just like to say : all farmers don’t have the same responsibities.

But in reality, this double lobbying did not have the expected result. Because, at the end of the day, the text that we voted on was the one I put forward. For example, it provides for the implementation of testing and communication with vets, especially with regard to appropriate usage of antibiotics, only as a last resort.

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