TV probe into farming drugs use

Manchester Evening News, 7 May 1979

The extensive use of drugs on British farms could pose a serious threat to public health through a build up of salmonella infection, according to a TV programme this week.

This and other findings linked to the alleged “indiscriminate” use of drugs in livestock farming were powerfully spelled out in a BBC documentary – a programme shrouded in controversy even before its transmission.

The fist in BBC-2’s new series “Brass Tacks,” it set out to investigate the connections between a rapid build up over the last few years of salmonella virus in meat and the use of certain antibiotics.

Viewers were told that it was the balancing out of big profits for farmers on the one side and financial ruin on the other that pressurised the industry into using drugs on the present scale.

Said an environmental health officer: “I fully believe that intensive animal husbandry is one of the prime reasons for an increase in salmonella infection in food animals and, therefore, an increase in salmonella infection in human beings.”

He added that last year there were 11,000 notified cases of food poisoning in the UK, 55-60 per cent of which were due to salmonella virus.


The programme described farmers of intensive units as “living on a knife edge.” It said that the livestock drug industry was worth £100 million per year, one fifth of which was made up of antibiotics, but the greatest problem now faced was the resistance by many viruses to combatant drugs and the development of new “super-germs.”

In recent years there had been a serious build up of multi-resistant salmonellae. Those bacteria were now escaping and reappearing in human food. Meath that looked perfectly all right to the butcher and mouth watering to the consumer could contain resistant organisms that only the scientists could be expected to detect, said the programme producers.

An example of ineffective treatment and its consequences was demonstrated by a look back to 1977 when a batch of calves on a Leicestershire farm were treated for a salmonella virus with chloramphenicol. The drug had no effect – neither did sulphonamide, tetracyclin or streptomycin – all drugs that should have proved satisfactory.

The outcome of the infection was that this resistant strain of the virus was found to be the most common found in bovines by the end of 1077 and was expected to be the most common diagnosed in humans by the end of this year.


The programme expressed the fear that this resistance could be transferred to typhoid virus and so making an outbreak in humans untreatable.

“Viewers were told that all new drugs are tested by the Veterinary Products Committee, but that after nine years in existence there were still 3,000 individual veterinary products awaiting testing.

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