Big Farm Weekly, 31 May 1979
AN INTERNAL Ministry of Agriculture survey of practices of calf dealers and fatteners has raised new official fears about drug abuse on British farms. The survey, which was instigated last year as part of the last Government’s policy of tightening up on animal welfare, turned its attention to the use of drugs almost as an afterthought.
But preliminary results have now revealed what Ministry vets call ‘worrying’ levels of apparent drug abuse on the farms involved. In particular, the survey has revealed wide and sometimes almost routine use of restricted antibiotics on many farms.
It seems to confirm the worries expressed in the recent BBC TV programme Brass Tacks about the use of one of the products – chloramphenicol, which is the most effective antibiotic against most types of salmonella including the common cattle infection Salmonella typhimurium.
Chloramphenicol is also the only proven destroyer of the human typhoid bacteria, Salmonella typhi – and the great fear is that over-use of this highly effective drug will build up bacterial resistance to it to such an extent that its effectiveness against a typhoid epidemic might be destroyed.
For this reason use of chloramphenicol in livestock has been heavily restricted for years. British vets are under firm instructions to prescribe it only in extreme cases.
The Ministry survey now makes it clear that some vets are over-prescribing.
It also shows that black market dealing goes on – although the British Veterinary Association says this is declining as a result of increasing publicity and some recent prosecutions.
BVA senior vice president Mr Don Haxby commented: ‘It would be a cause for concern if the report of the Ministry survey is true.’
‘We are certainly doing our best to make sure that the restrictions are observed, and we will get tough with vets who are over-subscribing. But we can’t do anything about the illegal imports.’