Skip to comments.“Pretty Please” is Not Enough. Why FDA Should Ban Subtherapeutic Use of Antibiotics in Livestock
Posted on 04/16/2012 8:51:02 AM PDT by Sopater
For decades, farmers have given livestock low doses of antibiotics in their feed to speed growth and prevent infection. And, for decades, scientists and public health officials have warned that this practice, known as subtherapeutic use, leads to the creation and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown more common both in people and in meat at the grocery store. Doctors encounter patients with infections that are harder to treat and last year, we saw a massive food recallthe third-largest recall of meat in USDAs recordsthanks to antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in ground turkey.
The FDA acknowledges theres a problem, but has done little to actually rein it in. The agency tracks antibiotic resistance in bacteria in meat and has created regulations to limit subtherapeutic uses in two classes of antibiotics, but has mostly focused on voluntary initiatives, citing lack of resources to implement enforceable rules.
Finally, the warnings from a vast chorus of science, health and consumer experts and the evidence that subtherapeutic use is a serious health concern could no longer be ignored. The last three weeks have brought about promising movement towards curtailing the dangerous practice, but we still have a long way to go.
First, on March 23, the FDA lost a lawsuit. A federal judge ruled that the agency must act on a proposal it made in 1977 to prevent two antibiotics important to human medicine tetracyclines and penicillins from being given routinely to healthy livestock. After citizen petitions in 1999 and 2005 and a lawsuit filed last year, FDA finally took actionquietly withdrawing the proposal just before Christmasbut the federal judge ruled that FDA actually had to address the concerns it identified over thirty years ago. The drug manufacturers will have a chance to make their case that the drugs are safe to feed to livestock routinely. But if they arent able to (and science indicates they wont), the FDA must withdraw its approval of subtherapeutic uses of the drugs.
Then, on April 6, the FDA banned most subtherapeutic uses of one class of antibiotics, cephalosporins. Cephalosporins play an important role in treating food-borne illnesses in humans, especially children, as well as pneumonia and skin and soft tissue infections. Salmonella resistant to cephalosporin drugs is on the rise, putting the public at risk. Food & Water Watch helped gather public comments earlier this year to encourage this ban and were glad to see this move forward to protect cephalosporins from overuse in agriculture.
Finally, this week (April 11), the FDA announced a major voluntary initiative to promote the judicious use of antibiotics in livestock. The agency released the final Guidance 209, The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals, along with yet more guidance about how make it workif (and this a key if)the pharmaceutical industry and livestock producers agree to go along with it. The FDA has set forth how to transition over-the-counter antibiotics in feed to a system requiring oversight by veterinarians, but still missing is the regulatory heft to actually make it happen.
With all the talk about antibiotics recently, the FDA seems to be sending mixed signals. On one hand, it banned subtherapeutic uses of two major classes of antibiotics, but it has taken a lawsuit to make it address a proposal to ban the same uses in two other major classes. And the FDA currently insists that industry voluntary efforts will address this public health issue, while new scientific evidence calls into question whether producers are even following the legal bans.
Can we trust the FDA to take strong action as they promised to this week, or must we rely on lawsuits to force the agency to protect consumers? Is it naïve or complicit for the FDA to expect voluntary measures to force the industrial meat industry to do the right thing? The answers to these questions are yet to be known, but one thing is certain. To truly protect consumers, anything less than a complete ban on the subtherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock is insufficient.
The FDA should use every tool in its regulatory toolbox to reduce subtherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock and not rely on voluntary measures. But to wipe out this practice once and for all, we urge Congress to make a ban on subtherapeutic use of antibiotics law by passing the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).
The problem here is not the treatment of sick animals. It is giving antibiotics at “sub-therapuetic” levels to all the animals, sick or not.
It really is a bad idea. Any widely used antibiotic will eventually cause bacteria to develop resistance, but using them when not really necessary to treat disease accelerates the process considerably.
People have forgotten how devastating bacterial infections used to be. Personally I’ve had at least three that 100 years ago would have either killed me or led to a limb amputation. We are in essentially a race between our ability to develop new antibiotics and the ability of bacteria to evolve resistance.
In the long run, put your money on the germs. But that’s no reason to handicap ourselves by using these drugs when they aren’t needed.
I agree that using subtheraputic antibiotics on all animals, sick or not, is a very bad idea. However, so is a ban enforced by the FDA. The administration of the antibiotics is a mitigation for an abusive, unsanitary, and unsafe farming environment. This measure bans the mitigation, not the process that is using it. In doing so, it will make it more difficult and expensive for me as a farmer who does not administer antibiotics as part of a routine to otherwise healthy animals.
> the third-largest recall of meat in USDAs recordsthanks to antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in ground turkey.
Why do they have to call it salmonella?
Before WW2, there was a disease caused by the Salmonella bacteria. It was called Typhoid. If a butcher shop or restaurant was found to have typhoid, people would avoid it (or in some cases, burn down the building). Typhoid Mary was locked up.
Now, with everything PC and Democrats defining our words, we have salmonella. It’s just a little food poisoning folks, nothing to see here, move along.
I recently finished Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MSRA, by Maryn McKenna, a medical writer at the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota. Certainly, the title of the book is overblown, but McKenna's an award-winning writing on epidimeology and she describes in detail the battles hospitals, clinics, NBA and NFL locker rooms (and the USC Trojans), prisons, and communities wage with methicillin-resistant staphyloccocus aureus.
One of the major breeding places for MSRA? CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), because of the antibiotics given to animals to keep them healthy long enough to put on weight. A minor breeding place? All other breeding operations that use antibiotics for that purpose - and the manure that comes from those breeding operations.
Each time we use antibiotics, even for therapeutic purposes, bacteria develop resistance. We're wasting our limited number of therapeutic uses by giving these sub-therapeutic doses to livestock - or at least we need to realize that we've making a trade off, and we need to consciously make that trade off. Less expensive beef and pork, or more effective antibiotics for humans.