The plans, approved by the European Parliament, aim to curb use of antibiotics on farms to keep drug-resistant bacteria out of food.
Estimates suggest that in Europe two thirds of antibiotics are used on livestock animals.
The overuse of antibiotics has become a growing concern as there is strong evidence to suggest that it has contributed to an increase in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can spread to people, rendering antibiotics ineffective for both humans and animals.
According to the latest estimates, 73% of the world’s antibiotics are used in farming and the EU’s position on farm antibiotic use is now largely consistent with that of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which last year produced guidelines on farm antibiotic use.
According to the new EU law, veterinary medicines must not serve to improve the performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry.
The law will limit the use of antimicrobials as a preventive measure, in the absence of clinical signs of infection (known as prophylactic use) to single animals and not groups.
Drugs can be used only when fully justified by a veterinarian in cases where there is a high risk of infection.
Metaphylactic use (treating a group of animals when one shows signs of infection) should be a “last resort”, the law states, and only occur once a veterinarian has diagnosed infection and prescribed the antimicrobials.
The landmark legislation still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers, but provisional approval by the Council was given earlier this year.
The law will only come into force in 2022, post-Brexit, and Defra Secretary Michael Gove said that during the negotiations over the regulations, the UK “did voice concerns about the restriction of prophylaxis to individual animals.”
The Government says it intends to implement the provisions of the new legislation, but refuses to accept that the EU legislation bans preventative group treatment.