Finland advocates much stricter rules for the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine – the aim is to maintain the efficacy of antimicrobial agents

On 24 October 2017 ministers of five European countries appealed to other Member States to restrict the preventive use of antimicrobials in the whole EU. The initiative came from Finland, and it was based on the proposal for a new Veterinary Medicines Regulation that is to lay down provisions for the manufacture, authorisation, distribution and use of veterinary medicines and supervision of the operators.

So far the use of veterinary antimicrobials has mainly been regulated nationally, but now common rules will be created for the whole EU. The aim is to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics and prevent pathogens from developing resistance to them. The development of pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines is a global problem which in the EU alone is estimated to cause economic losses of EUR 1.5 billion.

The new EU regulation will shift the focus in regulating the use of antibiotics from the national legislation to harmonised EU law. Already during the preparation Finland has emphasised that the use of veterinary antimicrobials must be kept well under control in future as well. The Member States that signed the petition propose that, according to the new regulation, preventive use of antibiotics would be allowed for individual animals only.

– Finland wishes to be a European leader in One Health thinking. In 1995 we had good cooperation with Sweden and succeeded in putting an end to the use of antibiotic additives as growth promoters. The proposed restriction concerning preventive medication of groups of animals with antibiotics would be a significant step towards a healthier future for Europe, says Minister of Social Affairs and Health Pirkko Mattila.

The proposal means in practice that preventive use of antibiotics for mass medication of animals, i.e. for veterinary medication of large groups of animals at the same time, would be prohibited. The letter prepared by Finland and signed by nine EU ministers appeal to all ministers of health and agriculture in order to win broad support for the proposal. Besides the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland Jari Leppä and Minister of Social Affairs and Health Pirkko Mattila, the letter was signed by the health and agriculture ministers of Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria. Estonia, currently holding the EU Presidency, has shown its support for the initiative by suggesting a formulation based on the letter into the latest draft regulation.

In many Member States preventive mass medication of farm animals with antibiotics is still common. The statistics show that as much as 90% of veterinary antibiotics sold in the EU are pharmaceutical forms for mass medication. The share of prophylactic use is not known, but the experts estimate that this is likely to be quite significant. On veterinary grounds preventive mass medication of animals with antibiotics is not justified. Instead, on the global scale the unnecessary use of antibiotics is regarded as a significant cause for antimicrobial resistance.

– Finland sets an excellent example in prudent use of antibiotics for farm animals. Common European legislation is a good way to prevent antimicrobial resistance and promote a controlled use of antibiotics in the whole of Europe. At the same time we must continue our efforts to further reduce the use of antibiotics in Finland, says Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä.

In Finland the use of antibiotics in medicating farm animals is at a very low level compared to the rest of Europe. The use of antibiotics that are critically important for human medicine is highly restricted and antibiotics are used for the treatment of farm animals on veterinary grounds only. Through national legislation Finland has succeeded in anticipating and reducing problems associated with the use of antibiotics, including the risk of antimicrobial resistance.

The development of pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines is a global problem which in the EU alone is estimated to cause economic losses of EUR 1.5 billion. The whole Finnish society is involved in the work on preventing antimicrobial resistance, which is done in cross-sectoral collaboration among the different ministries and stakeholders. Finland’s new National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance was published in May 2017.

Inquiries:

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry:
Nina Kaario, Senior Veterinary Officer, tel. + 358 50 573 6309
Risto Lahti, Special Adviser to the Minister, tel. + 358 50 565 0424

Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira:
Liisa Kaartinen, Senior Officer, tel. + 358 40 554 2238

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health:
Kari Synberg, Special Adviser to the Minister, tel. +358 50 574 2297

Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea:
Katariina Kivilahti-Mäntylä, Veterinary Officer, tel. + 358 29 522 3354

Tita-Maria Muhonen, Veterinary Officer, tel. + 358 29 522 3394

Ministers’ letter
National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

 

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Pressrelease 25.10.2017