How crucial effective drugs are for the survival of people should have become clear to everyone in times of the pandemic. One should think so. But when it comes to the interests of the meat industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the agribusiness, that no longer seems to apply. There is no other way of explaining what the non-governmental organization Germanwatch found in the small print of the draft EU Regulation 2019/6 on veterinary medicinal products. It's a surrender to the cheap meat lobby.
The draft specifies which antimicrobial agents should be reserved for treatment in humans. The European Union decided in 2018 that so-called reserve antibiotics should in future be reserved exclusively for humans. With resistance to common antibiotics growing around the world, these extremely powerful drugs are often the last resort to save lives. A year earlier, the World Health Organization (WTO) had drawn up a list of these lifesavers and urged all countries to only use these active ingredients in humans and then only if no other antibiotic was effective. Because if resistance to these reserve antibiotics also develops with excessive use, this last protective wall simply falls away.
But now there is suddenly a passage in the EU draft that should continue to allow the use of these life-saving drugs for animals – and apparently on a large scale. Use would be permitted if an animal were threatened with "serious illness or death" and if it was necessary for "animal welfare". A waxy formulation, which opens the door to the almost unlimited use of funds in industrial animal husbandry, warn critics. Particularly perfidious: Precisely the industry that has been fighting a real improvement in animal husbandry for years and often forcing animals into cruel production conditions should now, of all things, be able to continue treating their suffering critters with reserve antibiotics under the label animal welfare.
In fact, antibiotics have long been essential for intensive animal husbandry in confined spaces – quite apart from the fact that the drugs are cheaper than meticulous hygiene measures and free stalls. The massive use in agriculture is considered to be one of the main causes of the increasing resistance of bacteria. According to calculations by Germanwatch, almost 20 percent of the antibiotics administered in German stables are already reserve antibiotics. Does the right to a cheap steak outweigh human health?
"If the federal government approved this draft, it would overturn the primacy of human health," says Reinhild Benning, agricultural expert at Germanwatch. "This would sacrifice the goal of preserving effective antibiotics to save human lives to the productivity of industrial animal husbandry." In a letter to the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Julia Klöckner (CDU), Germanwatch, together with Doctors Against Factory Farming, Greenpeace and Vets for Responsible Agriculture, calls for the use of reserve antibiotics according to the current WHO list to be reserved exclusively for people: "The administration of antimicrobial agents in animal husbandry must become the absolute exception and in particular must not be the result of high-performance breeding and the cramped conditions, especially in large animal husbandry, which favor the current high consumption of antibiotics.
On Monday, the veterinary pharmaceutical committee of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture will discuss the EU draft. Minister Klöckner has asked numerous organizations and industrial associations to comment, even the Association of German Dogs. Human medicine, however, was not asked.
Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU), who should take care of the health of the citizens ex officio, sees the lead in the matter with the Klöckner Ministry. One is in close contact, it is said from the ministry, and: "In the design, a balance must be found between the interests of human medicine on the one hand and the interests of veterinary medicine, including animal welfare, on the other."
Apparently cheap meat has a better lobby than humans.