A medicine used by veterinarians for more than 50 years should be restricted, according to European medical experts, amid fears that overuse of antibiotics in animals could create health risks for humans.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) says there is “no available evidence” on resistance to the antibiotic colistin transferring from animals to humans. However, it says, there is little evidence of any kind available. In advice published today the agency says that colistin should still remain available to veterinarians, but restricted to infected animals or animals in contact with infections, with prophylactic use banned.
A decision on such restrictions now rests with the European Commission. Prophylactic use of antibiotics on farms has become a controversial issue. Although the practice is widespread, some scientists believe unfettered use promotes resistance to antibiotics that can spread to threaten human health.
The EMA also says there is no reason another antibiotic called tigecycline should be approved for use in animals. Both colistin and tigecycline are essential treatments in human medicine, where they are used against bacteria resistant to many first-line treatments.
“The EMA recommendation is ‘the precautionary approach’, and is laudable,” says Laura Piddock, a microbiologist at the University of Birmingham, UK, and director of Antibiotic Action, which campaigns for the development of new antibiotics. “The reality is that we should question the use of any antibacterial agent outside of human medicine and until there is unequivocal evidence showing no effect of animal use upon human health. Colistin should be restricted as recommended by the EMA.”