News Feature | December 12, 2013

The FDA Cracks Down On Livestock Antibiotic Use

Source: Food Online
Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis

Agency unveils first policy in years to phase out indiscriminate use of medicine in raising animals for meat

Citing a public health concern over antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the FDA called on animal pharmaceutical companies Wednesday, Dec 11 to voluntarily change the labels of feed products containing antibiotics. The move would eliminate the current FDA approval of antibiotic use as a growth promoter.

This marks the first attempt in decades the FDA has made to restrict the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Experts believe years of overuse of antibiotics in producing animals for meat has led to a threat to public health — antibiotic-resilient bacteria. “This is the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years,” says David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner. At least two million Americans become sick from these “super bugs” each year, with nearly 23,000 dying from them.

The new policy will make it illegal for producers of livestock to use antibiotics as way to promote animal growth. Farmers and ranchers have found that feeding low doses of antibiotics to animals led them to them growing bigger, faster. The new policy will also require livestock producers to receive a veterinarian’s prescription to use drugs as a means of disease prevention in animals. “It’s a big shift from the current situation, in which animal producers can go to a local feed store and buy these medicines over the counter and there is no oversight at all,” says Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA.

The changes in policy, originally proposed in 2012, are voluntary. Despite the new guideline being voluntary, the FDA believes pharmaceutical companies will comply with it based on discussions during the proposal’s comment period. Two of the major producers of antibiotics — Zoetis and Elanco — have already voiced intentions to participate. Drug companies have three months to inform the FDA if they will make changes to their labels and three years to carry out the new rules.

While food producers and pharmaceutical companies are willing to abide by the new rules, some public and consumer health advocates believe loopholes — allowing producers to continue using low doses of antibiotics claiming it prevents animals from becoming sick — could leave the policy without teeth. Taylor says the FDA has detailed what vets must consider when prescribing drugs. For example, the use of an antibiotic must be used for animals at risk of developing a specific disease, without a preventative alternative. A more stern approach might be banning the use of antibiotics as preventative medicine for livestock production. This would limit antibiotic use in livestock to the treatment of specific animals suffering from an exact ailment as diagnosed by a veterinarian. So far, this is a step the FDA has not taken.

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