WELLINGTON - Antibiotics regularly used in poultry and pig feed in New Zealand have been banned in Europe because of fears about their effect on human health.

The four drugs - zinc bacitracin, spiramycin, virginiamycin and tylosin phosphate - are in regular use in New Zealand but no action is to be taken until later this month when the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will set up a special steering committee.

The European Union has reacted to concerns that the drugs, used to promote growth in animals, could increase human resistance to medicines and render them ineffective.

EU farmers have been given six months from January 1 to phase out routine use of the drugs.

Announcing the decision, the EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner, Franz Fischler, said evidence was growing of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Because feed additives contributed to this development, it would be irresponsible of the union not to take immediate action to minimise the risk.

In New Zealand, the ministry's veterinary medicines group says it will not ban the drugs until the steering group has looked at all the issues and evaluated the impact here of the European decision.

The registrar of pesticides, John Reeve, says international trade issues as well as health issues will have to be looked at.

Animal remedies policy spokesman Nick Whelan says differences in the way animals are raised in New Zealand could mean the risks are not the same. "Here it's mostly grass feeding ... In Europe they feed with grains in a confined area."

A decision was made late last year to set up a group of experts to review the European decision and its likely impact.

The group will be joined by a subgroup of technical people and will liaise with the Ministry of Health. - NZPA