Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced new guidance regarding the use of antibiotics in livestock. The FDA recommends that farmers and ranchers phase out the use of antibiotics to promote growth; using antibiotics instead to prevent or treat disease.
The FDA is asking drug companies to voluntarily revise their product labels to focus on disease prevention and treatment rather than promoting faster weight gain or improving feed efficiency. They are also asking for increased veterinary oversight or consultation. Currently, many antimicrobial drugs approved for use in livestock feed or water are available over-the-counter. Requiring veterinary prescriptions could reduce the amount of antibiotics being fed to food-producing animals. The FDA has invited public comment on these recommendations. They are also inviting public comment on Veterinary Feed Directive regulation that outlines ways that veterinarians can authorize the use of antibiotics in animal feed.
In 1977, the FDA concluded that it was unsafe to give antibiotics to food-producing animals for non-medical reasons (i.e., to promote growth and to prevent disease in animals housed in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions). They warned that these practices could promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and announced plans to withdraw approval of some antibiotics used in livestock feed. However, approval for using antibiotics for these purposes was never withdrawn.
Since then, medical evidence has shown that treating livestock with antibiotics increases risks to human health. Using antibiotics for reasons other than treating disease continuously exposes bacteria to low doses of drugs, providing an ideal environment for them to develop antibiotic-resistance. The concern is that formerly useful drugs will become ineffective against resistance microbes, negatively affecting the health and safety of both people and animals.
In March 2012, a judge ruled that the FDA must take action by withdrawing approval for most non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in animal feed, unless industry can prove in public hearings that those drug uses are safe.
The FDA's April 11th announcement has been met with mixed reactions.