Bacteria that are resistant to antimicrobial drugs cause 25,000 deaths a year in the EU, Iceland and Norway. Urgent action must be taken to fight them, by developing new drugs, using existing ones more carefully and improving animal husbandry, says Parliament in a resolution passed on Tuesday. MEPs warn that neglecting antimicrobial resistance could even bring a return to the pre-antibiotic era.

To slow the growth of antimicrobial drug resistance, MEPs call for prudent-use guidelines to reduce non-essential exposure to them in human and veterinary medicine, agriculture and aquaculture. The non-binding resolution drafted by Anna Rosbach (ECR, DK), was adopted by 588 votes to 16 against, with 23 abstentions.

"The number of resistant bacteria in Europe is exploding. Bacteria travel across borders and are a threat for the whole EU. First of all, we must ensure that the use of antimicrobials for both humans and animals is reduced. But we also need to bridge the gap between rising resistance and development of new antimicrobials by promoting more research and innovation. If we don't take measures now, the growing resistance could threaten our ability to treat patients and could even take us back to the pre-antibiotic era", said Ms Rosbach during the debate preceding the vote.

Time to change attitudes

The key aim of the strategy must be to maintain the effectiveness of current drugs by using them responsibly, but this demands a change in attitudes to their consumption, argue MEPs. They highlight the need for better education and training for doctors, pharmacists, veterinarians and farmers and more comprehensive information for the general public on the harm done by using antimicrobials improperly.

Give priority to prevention

To avoid massive over-use of antimicrobials, livestock farming, aquaculture and human medicine should focus on disease prevention rather than prophylactic use. This can be achieved by improving hygiene, especially in sensitive environments such as hospitals, and better animal husbandry in general, says the text.

The right to prescribe antimicrobials for animals should be restricted to professional veterinarians and separated from the right to sell these drugs, so as to avoid creating economic incentives to prescribe.

For human patients, antimicrobials should not be available without a prescription, says the resolution. The veterinary use of third and fourth generation antimicrobials, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies as critically important for humans, should be restricted, say MEPs.

Stimulate research and innovation

Research on new antimicrobials must be better coordinated across the EU and internationally, and should benefit from public-private partnerships (PPPs), to ease access to new drugs and make them more affordable, says the text.

Procedure:  Non-legislative resolution