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Financial Times | March 26, 2002 | Michael Mann |

The use of antibiotics as an ingredient in animal feed would be banned under proposals unveiled yesterday by the European Commission to tighten Europe's much-maligned food safety standards.

David Byrne, EU food safety commissioner, said the four remaining antibiotics used to boost growth in livestock - monensin sodium, salinomycin sodium, avilamycin and flavophospholipol - should be phased out by 2006.

Unsafe animal feed has been the root cause of most of the recent food scares that have undermined the confidence of European consumers in what they eat. BSE, or mad cow disease, is widely recognised to have been unleashed by feeding cattle with feed made from infected sheep, while the 1999 dioxin crisis in Belgium followed the accidental contamination of feedstuffs.

The early months of this year have also seen the EU impose tough new curbs on seafood imports from east Asia after the discovery of traces of potentially harmful antibiotics in some shipments. The new measures - if approved by EU governments and the European Parliament - would also apply to imports.

"Safety in feed is a cornerstone of safety in food," Mr Byrne said. "We have all learned the prime importance of safe animal feed during the food crises of the recent past."

The EU has already outlawed the use in feed of most antibiotics because of concern about the development of "superbugs" resistant to antibiotics used in human medicine. A recent study showed that in 1999, farm animalsconsumed 4,700 tonnes of antibiotics - or 35 per cent of all the antibiotics administered in the EU. Some 786 tonnes were used in feed specifically to boost animal growth.

New controls will also be introduced on other feed additives, such as flavours and vitamins. All new authorisations, which would be the responsibility of the new European Food Safety Authority, would only be granted for an initial period of ten years.

Companies marketing additives already allowed under existing rules would have to apply for re-evaluation within the next seven years. They would also have to prove that any substance used in livestock feed was good for the animal and presented no risk to human health and the environment.

Because of a lack of suitable alternatives, one group of substances - coccidiostats - used to treat poultry, could continue to be used as long as additional safeguards were implemented if they were of antibiotic origin, the Commission said.

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