Antibiotics for Farm Animals—Is the FDA Serious?July 6, 2010
Last Wednesday, the FDA announced that it wanted to reduce the use of growth-promoting antibiotic drugs for meat-producing animals because it contributes to drug resistance in humans. Good intentions, perhaps—but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Our new Action Alert asks the FDA to take the next step and actually do something about the problem.
In our June 14 issue of The Pulse of Natural Health, we told you about a FDA Citizen Petition to ban the use of arsenic in animal feed. The FDA has been backtracking on that issue. The use of antibiotics in feed is a related issue.
Low doses of antibiotics are given to animals either to make them grow more quickly or so they require less feed to get to market weight. They are commonly used in animals raised for meat, such as chickens, pigs, and beef cattle. Antibiotics are also frequently used to treat sick dairy cattle, with the result that a residue may appear in milk or milk products.
Antibiotic use in animal agriculture has been linked to bacterial infections in humans which are resistant to antibiotics. Mounting evidence suggests that widespread overuse of agricultural antibiotics also may be contaminating surface waters and groundwater, including drinking water sources in many rural areas. Nonetheless, agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industry are fighting hard to thwart restrictions on the use of antibiotics in agriculture.
The US Food and Drug Administration’s draft guidelines recommend gradually phasing in measures that would allow medically important antimicrobial drugs (that is, antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics) to be given to food-producing animals only if it were considered necessary for ensuring the animal’s health. And veterinary oversight would be mandated. Currently, as journalist David Kirby points out, operators can buy these pharmaceuticals by the barrelful at a feed store, without a prescription and without the supervision of a vet. According to some figures, up to 70% of all US antibiotics are given to farm animals.
FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein told reporters, “This is an urgent public health issue. To preserve [the drugs’] effectiveness, we simply must use them as judiciously as possible.” If this is such an “urgent public health issue,’’ then why is this just a recommendation? Why not just ban the practice outright? The FDA has that authority, and it would bring our animal production practices closer to those found in Canada and the EU countries.
The problem is, antibiotics are always deemed necessary in CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations. It’s the standard model for large-scale food-producing-animal factory farms. These feedlots are so cramped, so filthy, and so full of harmful bacteria like MRSA (which kills more people each year than AIDS) and e-coli that without regular doses of antibiotics, none of their animals would survive. And businesses will certainly claim medical necessity, even though their real goal is to continue to use antibiotics for growth purposes.
Of course, meat producers dispute the idea that the use of antibiotics for growth or any other purpose is unsafe. National Pork Producers Council president Sam Carney says the FDA “didn’t present any science on which to base this [their proposed guidelines].”
So what’s the solution? Outside of a much-needed revolution in factory farming, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (HR 1549) lays out the best approach. It was introduced by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D–NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, and is supported by organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety. This bill would ban the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials in animals, and would ban the use of even therapeutic antimicrobials unless it can be demonstrated that there is “a reasonable certainty of no harm to human health” due to the development of antibiotic drug resistance.
The public (and industry) will have 60 days to comment on the FDA announcement, and the FDA will then use those comments to consider its next move. Please tell the FDA that you oppose the use of antibiotics in agribusiness. TAKE ACTION HERE.
Please Note: Comments left below are not delivered to the FDA. To send your message please click the “TAKE ACTION HERE” link above.