Seoul, South Korea -- Five years after the European Union banned antibiotics in animal feed, South Korea is about to become the first Asian country to embrace such a restriction.
Beginning in July, South Korea is promising to strictly enforce a ban on the use of so-called antibiotic growth promoters in animal feed, according to the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
The EU banned all sub-therapeutic antibiotic growth promoters in animal feed beginning in January 2006. Prior to that only three nations had imposed bans on their own: Sweden ('86); Denmark ('98); and Switzerland ('99).
The bans are intended to preserve the effectiveness of some antibiotics used to treat infections in humans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first proposed an American ban on antibiotics in animal feed in 1977, but a Congress dominated by agricultural interests asked for more study.
Since 2005, South Korea has been gradually reducing the 44 types of antibiotics it had allowed to be mixed with feed as various scientists have warned about the side effects from livestock receiving too many antibiotics.
"The government will impose a total ban on the addition of antibiotics to animal feed by revising rules governing animal food," the MAFF announcement said. "The new rules will enhance the safety of local meat and dairy products."
Under South Korea's revised rules, eight types of antibiotics and one antimicrobial agent will be prohibited.
South Korea will permit veterinarians to treat sick animals with antibiotics. The government, however, said once the ban goes into effect, checks for antibiotic residues in feed will be frequent with tough action for violators.
The MAFF has been monitoring residues in meat since 1991.
In the U.S., both Congress and the Manhattan federal court are considering whether a similar ban should be imposed in the U.S.
Bans leave the animal industry looking for alternatives to antibiotics. There is not a single replacement, but EU agriculture has experimented with various organic acids and other substances with varying degrees of success.