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Media release: Regulatory changes for veterinary antibiotic

Media Release 0406, 23 November 2004

Australia’s regulator of veterinary medicines, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), has released the findings of its review of virginiamycin, an antibiotic employed in the treatment of food-producing animals, which will result in a number of changes to the way it is used in future.

Martin Holmes, Manager of the APVMA’s Veterinary Medicines Program, said that the review was undertaken in response to a recommendation from the Australian Government’s Joint Expert Advisory Committee on Antibiotic Resistance calling for the effect of virginiamycin on human health to be reviewed. The Expert Committee also recommended that the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals be reviewed, and phased out, if their continued use poses a risk to human health.

‘Virginiamycin belongs to the same class of antibiotics as an important one used in human medicine. That drug is an ‘antibiotic of last resort’ used in the treatment of people suffering from infections resistant to more commonly-used antibiotics. Many of these infections occur in intensive-care wards,’ Mr Holmes said.

‘The review concluded that while there was only a very low risk of antibiotic resistance developing in animal bacteria and then being transferred to people, the likely impact on people requiring treatment with related antibiotics would be severe,’ he said.

‘Our review findings also confirm that virginiamycin is an important tool in preventing a range of diseases in animals but also identifies that there is scope to manage its use more responsibly to counter any risk of antibiotic resistance being passed on to bacteria which infect people,’ Mr Holmes said.

‘Because of the high priority it places on human health the APVMA is taking a protective approach to the regulation of virginiamycin, requiring its more prudent use in the future’.

‘The APVMA will stop the use of virginiamycin for growth promotion purposes. Also, restrictions will be placed on the period of time that a food-producing animal can be treated with virginiamycin.’

‘The review findings and APVMA actions highlight the sophisticated system that Australia has in place for the management of pesticides and veterinary medicines that achieves positive outcomes. The APVMA regulatory action provides an extra margin of safety for human health while keeping an important veterinary medicine available to animal producers under professional veterinary controls which will encompass the very great majority of clinical situations,’ Mr Holmes said.
Virginiamycin is currently used in the treatment of digestive conditions in feedlot cattle, dairy cattle, sheep and poultry. It is also registered for growth promotion in pigs and poultry.

See www.apvma.gov.au for answers to frequently asked questions.

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