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FDA Concedes Antibiotic
Use In Farm Animals Must Be Phased Out
December 13, 2013
Antibiotics are added to animal feed or drinking water of cattle, hogs, poultry
and other food-producing animals to make them gain weight faster or use less
food to gain weight. The United Nations and World Health Organization have both
stated that humans are building up dangerous levels of resistance to modern
antibiotics that could leave them vulnerable to killer diseases in the future.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is implementing, albeit a modest
voluntary plan, but still one in the right direction, to phase out the use of
certain antibiotics for enhanced food production.
Due to the vast uses implemented for antimicrobial drugs in both humans and
animals, they have contributed to the development of antimicrobial resistance.
It is imperative that we begin to eliminate the use of drugs from the food
Governments around the world consider antimicrobial-resistant bacteria a major
threat to public health. Illnesses caused by drug-resistant strains of bacteria
are more likely to be potentially fatal when the medicines used to treat them
are rendered less effective.
The UN and WHO wants farmers to stop using antibiotics simply to make their
UUse of antibiotics leads to resistant strains of bacteria in animals and in the
environment. (Thus, if you get sick from Salmonella, for example, the strain may
be resistant to many antibiotics.) Meat from corn-fed cattle is also far more
contaminated with E coli bacteria, partly because corn interferes with ruminant
digestion, and partly because the animals are crowded together in filthy
conditions. E. coli levels are much lower in grass-fed cattle.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria are increasing in prevalence and cause many
healthcare-associated infections and are estimated to cost approximately $4
FDA is working to address the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals for
production uses, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency. These
drugs are deemed important because they are also used to treat human disease and
might not work if the bacteria they target become resistant to the drugs'
"We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use
them," says William Flynn, DVM, MS, deputy director for science policy at FDA's
Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). "Antimicrobial resistance may not be
completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down."
FDA is issuing a final
guidance document that explains how companies can work with the agency to
voluntarily remove growth enhancement and feed efficiency indications from the
Once manufacturers voluntarily make these changes, the affected products can
then only be used in food-producing animals to treat, prevent or control disease
under the order of or by prescription from a licensed veterinarian.
"This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials, which
protects public health and, at the same time, ensures that sick and at-risk
animals receive the therapy they need," says CVM Director Bernadette Dunham,
DVM, Ph.D. "We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and
animal producers, and we have been working to make this transition as seamless
Drugs Primarily in Feed
Flynn explains that all the drugs affected by this plan are antibacterial
products. They have long been FDA-approved for production (e.g. growth
enhancement) purposes as well as for the treatment, control or prevention of
animal diseases. Even today, he says, it is not entirely understood how these
drugs make animals grow faster. The drugs are primarily added to feed, although
they are sometimes added to the animals' drinking water.
Bacteria evolve to survive threats to their existence. In both humans and
animals, even appropriate therapeutic uses of antibiotics can promote the
development of drug resistant bacteria. When such bacteria enter the food
supply, they can be transferred to the people who eat food from the treated
In 2010, FDA called for a strategy to phase out production use of medically
important antimicrobial products and to bring the remaining therapeutic uses
under the oversight of a veterinarian. The guidance document that FDA is issuing
on Dec. 11, 2013, which was previously issued in draft form in 2012, lays out
such a strategy and marks the beginning of the formal implementation period.
Flynn explains that the final guidance document made participation voluntary
because it is the fastest, most efficient way to make these changes. FDA has
been working with associations that include those representing drug companies,
the feed industry, producers of beef, pork and turkey, as well as veterinarians
and consumer groups.
"Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal
pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort," says Michael R.
Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.
About the Author
April McCarthy is a community
journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to
advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.