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Slowing Antibiotic Resistance

Health: FDA urges halt to nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock, poultry

by Britt E. Erickson
July 5, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 27

Credit: Shutterstock
Pork producers claim that FDA’s draft guidance could eliminate antibiotics that are key to animal health and food safety.
Credit: Shutterstock
Pork producers claim that FDA’s draft guidance could eliminate antibiotics that are key to animal health and food safety.

FDA has made it clear to the animal agriculture industry that feeding animals antibiotics for growth promotion poses a serious public health threat. In draft guidance published last week, FDA recommended that the industry stop using antibiotics that are medically important to humans unless they are necessary for animal health and are given with veterinary oversight.

The agency stopped short, however, of issuing regulations to prohibit the use of antibiotics to increase production or enhance growth of farm animals. FDA is hoping that farmers will adopt the guidelines voluntarily, but such hopes have not materialized in the past.

The guidance aims to help reduce antibiotic resistance in humans, which is worsening because of misuse and overuse of antibiotics in animal production. “To preserve the effectiveness of these important antimicrobial drugs, we simply must use them as judiciously as possible,” Joshua M. Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of FDA, noted at a June 28 briefing. “Today’s draft guidance provides general principles and key first steps for achieving that goal,” he said.

It also sets the foundation for potential future regulations, but FDA would not comment on when those next steps might happen. The agency has attempted to ban the use of antibiotics in animal production for decades, but its efforts have been derailed by Congress under pressure from industry.

The pressure is likely to continue. The National Pork Producers Council issued a statement questioning the science on which FDA based its draft guidance. The industry group also expressed concern that the document could “lead to the elimination or costly review of previously approved animal health products.”

Some members of Congress and public health advocates were also not pleased with FDA’s announcement. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation (H.R. 1549) that would phase out nontherapeutic uses of some antibiotics in food-producing animals, stressed that FDA has “not gone far enough or moved fast enough.” Likewise, Laura Rogers, project director of the Pew Campaign on Human Health & Industrial Farming, urged FDA to “define and regulate what constitutes judicious use” and “move expeditiously toward the issuance of regulations.”



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