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Fish Farming

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 166575, tabled on 10 March 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment he has made of the potential effect of (a) antibiotics and (b) pesticides used on farmed fish in UK waters on other (i) marine life and (ii) human health.

Answered on

18 March 2021

All veterinary medicines (including pesticides and antibiotics) used in aquaculture require a Marketing Authorisation, or an import certificate for use of products authorised in other countries, from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD); in addition, they all require a prescription from a Veterinary Surgeon.

The VMD is an Executive Agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that seeks to protect public health, animal health, and the environment and promotes animal welfare by assuring the safety, quality and efficacy of veterinary medicines in the United Kingdom.

The VMD is responsible for the assessment, issue, and maintenance of all national Marketing Authorisations for veterinary medicines, in accordance with UK legislation. The potential effect of medicines (including antibiotics and pesticides) used on farmed fish in UK waters, on marine life and human health, are evaluated as part of the authorisation process for the medicine. If any risks are identified as part of this process, risk mitigation measures (e.g. withdrawal periods, user safety warnings and environmental mitigations) are employed to reduce the risk to acceptable levels. The conclusions of the human and environmental impact assessments are always factored into the benefit: risk assessment, which is used to decide whether or not a product can be authorised.

Even after a veterinary medicine is authorised for use in aquaculture, systems are in place to monitor any unexpected problems for either humans or the environment. The VMD continues to evaluate the safety of the products through the surveillance of suspected adverse reactions (SARs), via the Suspected Adverse Reaction Surveillance Scheme (SARSS).

Following the authorisation of veterinary medicines used in aquaculture, the Environment Agency (EA) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) are responsible for the regulation of discharges of medicines used in fish farms into the water environment in UK waters.

In terms of the UK, the majority of fish farming occurs in Scottish waters. It is widely accepted that SEPA implements one of the strongest regulatory regimes for the aquaculture industry anywhere in the world, designed to strengthen the protection of the marine environment.

The number of medicines that fish farmers can use in the UK is in line with other salmon producing nations in Europe. Unlike some major salmon producing countries, the UK’s approach has the added control of requiring those medicines discharged in significant quantities to meet environmental standards set to protect marine life. EA and SEPA only licence discharges to the limit of what the local environment can accommodate sustainably.