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Advertising antimicrobials

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NEWS that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate has decided to ban the advertising of antimicrobials to farmers and other professional animal keepers has taken some people by surprise. What is more surprising, however, is that it has not happened sooner. The VMD initially indicated that it intended to prohibit such advertising when it last amended the Veterinary Medicines Regulations in 2011. However, after public consultation on the proposal, and following opposition from the industry and publishers, the plan was dropped. Britain is unique in Europe in currently allowing antimicrobials to be advertised to farmers and European legislation does, in fact, prohibit the advertising of prescription-only products to the general public. Until now, the UK has argued that farmers are professional animal keepers, so the ban on advertising should not apply to them. However, with the European Commission taking the view that the term ‘general public’ should be interpreted in the same way as for human medicines legislation, and with the Commission having formally objected to the UK's interpretation, it seems that that particular argument will no longer wash. The VMD has made clear that it intends to correct the anomaly when it updates the Veterinary Medicines Regulations in 2013. It has also indicated that, again in line with the European legislation, it will be prohibiting the advertising of prescription-only medicines to owners or keepers of horses (see p 385 of this issue).

The VMD's decision has been welcomed by the BVA, which has argued for some time that advertising should be restricted as part of the wider efforts being made to combat antimicrobial resistance. Peter Harlech Jones, the Association's president, pointed out last week that resistance is a serious issue for both human and animal health and that it is important to ensure that available products are used appropriately. ‘Ultimately,’ he said, ‘it is the veterinary surgeon who will make the decision on which veterinary products to use, and vets will continue to work with their farm clients to ensure antimicrobials are used prudently and responsibly.’

The decision needs to be seen in the context of the current level of interest in tackling resistance, which has intensified in recent years and shows no signs of diminishing. This is reflected, for example, by the fact that the World Health Organization chose antimicrobial resistance as the subject for World Health Day in 2011, as well in a document published the WHO earlier this year which assessed progress over the past 10 years and highlighted areas where action is still needed (VR, March 31, 2012, vol 170, p 320). It is also reflected in a 12-point action plan aimed at tackling resistance launched by the European Commission on European Antibiotic Awareness Day last November (VR, November 26, 2011, vol 169, pp 564, 565-566).

Antimicrobials are needed to treat infections in animals and people, and need to be used responsibly in both. Unfortunately, while the WHO document and the EU action plan seemed to recognise this, they tended to reinforce the impression, which has been hard to avoid in recent years, that political efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance are focusing particularly on the use of antimicrobials in animals at present, when effort is needed across the board. Meanwhile, with the European Commission planning to update veterinary medicines legislation, and with the emphasis on preserving the efficacy of products for human use, the possibility remains that certain categories of product might cease to be available for use in animals. Against this background, it is important to be seen to be using products responsibly. A ban on advertising antimicrobials to farmers might not be welcomed by all industry sectors but it is preferable to a ban on products and it seems a relatively small price to pay to help to ensure that effective products remain available for use in animals and people in the future.

Continuing interest in tackling antimicrobial resistance effectively was reflected in debates at the recent BVA Congress in Liverpool, as well as in a joint symposium involving both veterinary and medical professionals held in London earlier this month, which is reported on pages 389-390 of this issue. Resistance presents a problem for both animals and people. It was clear from the symposium that the two professions have a shared responsibility in dealing with the challenge and that there is much to be gained from working together on identifying areas for action.

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