Farmers, veterinarians, health watchdogs and consumers are waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to issue new guidelines on the use of farm animal antibiotics.
After decades of conversation about the topic, the agency appears to be on the verge of acting. The concern is that overuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals leads to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be passed on to humans.
The New York Times reported:
“The agency’s final version is expected within months, and comes at a time when animal confinement methods, safety monitoring and other aspects of so-called
are also under sharp attack. The federal proposal has struck a nerve among major livestock producers, who argue that a direct link between farms and human illness has not been proved. The producers are vigorously opposing it even as many medical and health experts call it too timid.”
“Scores of scientific groups, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America [PDF], are calling for even stronger action that would bar most uses of key antibiotics in healthy animals, including use for disease prevention, as with Mr. Rowles’s piglets. Such a bill [PDF] is gaining traction in Congress.”
U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter’s bill, “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009,” is the legislation farmers seem to fear the most. The act’s summary explains:
“Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009 — Amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to deny an application for a new animal drug that is a critical antimicrobial animal drug unless the applicant demonstrates that there is a reasonably certainty of no harm to human health due to the development of antimicrobial resistance attributable to the nontherapeutic use of the drug. Defines ‘critical antimicrobial animal drug’ as a drug intended for use in food-producing animals that contains specified antibiotics or other drugs used in humans to treat or prevent disease or infection caused by microorganisms. Requires the Secretary to withdraw approval of a nontherapeutic use of such drugs in food-producing animals two years after the date of enactment of this Act unless certain safety requirements are met. Directs specified congressional committees to hold hearings on the implementation of such a withdrawal of approval.”
This week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told beef producers:
” ‘I’ve communicated to Rep. Slaughter, my support of the judicious use of antibiotics. The vast majority of producers do not abuse the use of antibiotics in livestock production. I told her you cannot ban this. It doesn’t make sense,’ Secretary Vilsack said. ‘USDA’s public position is, and always has been, that antibiotics need to be used judiciously and we believe they already are.’ “
The FDA calls antibiotic resistance “a growing threat.” Here is its official position on the issue:
“FDA supports the idea of H.R. 1549 to phase out growth promotion/feed efficiency uses of antimicrobials in animals. The current statutory process of withdrawing a new animal drug approval is very burdensome on the agency. FDA recommends that any proposed legislation facilitate the timely removal of nonjudicious uses of antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals. At the same time, FDA believes that legislation should permit the judicious use of antimicrobials in animals for prevention and control as discussed above.”
Another resource to check out is the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has spoken out before about antibiotic resistance.