It’s long been a practice of companies that produce beef, pork and poultry for American consumption to give their animals low-dose antibiotics in their food or water, in part to help them grow. By doing so, the animals grow to market weight more quickly, can be slaughtered sooner and save the companies money on feed.
But the Food and Drug Administration on Monday said it wants the process stopped, believing that overuse of antibiotics in animals can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains in humans – the so-called “superbugs.”
"Because bacteria are so good at becoming resistant to antimicrobial drugs, it is essential that such drugs be used judiciously to delay the development of resistance," says Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs.
"This is an urgent public health issue," Sharfstein said during a conference call with reporters. "To preserve the effectiveness [of antibiotics], we simply must use them as judiciously as possible."
From USA Today:
The draft guidance, published on the agency's website, also says that antibiotic use in animals should require veterinarian oversight. The public and industry will have 60 days to comment, and the FDA will then use those comments to consider its next move, Sharfstein says. "We're seeking guidance on how to achieve those principles."
However, public health advocates working to preserve the power of antibiotics say the FDA document is pretty much the same testimony Sharfstein gave before the House a year ago, with summaries of other reports tacked on.
"We were really disappointed because it's not really a plan for action," says Steven Roach, with Keep Antibiotics Working, a coalition of public health, consumer and animal welfare groups. "It describes what they would like to do, but they don't have any description of what they plan on doing or how they plan on doing it."
The draft guidance, published on the FDA website, also says that antibiotic use in animals should require veterinarian oversight. The public and industry will have 60 days to comment, and the FDA will then use those comments to consider its next move.
The FDA made its recommendations in a first-round version of a "guidance" document, which represents the agency's current thinking on an issue. Guidance does not carry the weight of law but generally is adopted by industry.
"We're not expecting people to pick up this guidance and change their practice tomorrow," Sharfstein told reporters.
"This is the first step in the FDA establishing the principles from which we could then move, if necessary, toward other mechanisms of oversight, which is regulation," he said.
A final guidance document will be written after FDA reviews responses from livestock producers, drug makers and other interested groups.
New practices that limit drug use could have an impact on major pharmaceutical companies that produce antibiotics used on farms such as Pfizer, Bayer AG, Merck & Co Inc, Novartis AG and Animal Health International.
An umbrella group representing drug makers said they welcomed the FDA's guidance and but want to ensure farmers and veterinarians can continue to get antibiotics needed to protect animal health.
An estimated 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are fed to healthy animals to promote weight gain, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Proponents of a ban on the use of antibiotics in livestock feed said the FDA guidance did not go far enough.
"The FDA has proposed good steps, but they have not gone far enough or moved fast enough," said Representative Louise Slaughter, chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, a New York Democrat who has led Congressional efforts on a ban.
From the Washington Post:
The FDA has tried to limit the use of antibiotics in agriculture since 1977, but its efforts have repeatedly collapsed in the face of opposition from the drug industry and farm lobby.
But mounting evidence of a global crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has propelled the government to act, said Brad Spellberg, an infectious-diseases specialist and the author of "Rising Plague," a book about antibiotic resistance.
"The writing is on the wall," said Spellberg, who teaches at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We're in an era where antibiotic resistance is out of control, and we're running out of drugs and new drugs are not being developed. We can't continue along the path we're on."
The European Union banned the feeding of antibiotics and related drugs to livestock for growth promotion in 2006.
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