FDA Asks For Voluntary Cutback on Subtheurapeutic Antibiotic Use in Animals

Dec 13, 2013  | 00:03:26  | Ep3916

On Wednesday the Food and Drug Administration took the first step towards phasing out the widespread use of antibiotics in animal production, citing a potential threat to public health.  The government agency will ask pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important to treating human infection as acceptable in animals that are processed for meat

The goal is to slow the growth of antibiotic resistant diseases in humans by decreasing the use of the drugs in animals.

Dr. Scott Hurd, Iowa State University: “Using antibiotics, in any situation, whether it’s in humans, or in animals, creates the possibility of some resistance.”  

Dr. Hurd is a former deputy undersecretary for food safety at USDA which put him in charge of all the meat inspection in the US.  Lately he’s been researching antibiotic use in livestock at Iowa State University. 

Dr. Scott Hurd, Iowa State University: “It is like ammunition, if you will, in your armory, and that’s what veterinarians need is ammunition. So, you don’t waste your ammunition, you know. We don’t use it for animals that don’t need it, and use it unless there’s a specific infection found on the farm. And you find that, you get your veterinarian involved who gets a prescription just like he does for you and says okay, use the stuff for this time period and get it out of there. That’s what we’re in favor of.”

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 23,000 people die annually from drug-resistant infections.  Consumers have become increasingly concerned about the issue and it’s one that the FDA has tried to address for years.  It is unclear, however, how much of the problem can be attributed to the use of drugs in meat production.

Craig Rowels, Pork producer: “From my perspective, the science of microbial resistance and its relationship to antibiotics being used in animal agriculture isn’t clear.” 

Craig Rowels is a pork producer in Iowa with 8,000 sows and 43 employees is able to market 150,000 pigs a year.

Craig Rowels, Pork producer: “Producers, like ourselves, we understand that antibiotics are an important tool and we all have to be careful in how we use them. In the case of growth promotion, they believe it is not judicious, to use antibiotics in that particular format.”

Pharmaceutical companies will be given three years to comply with the new guidelines and in a statement FDA’s deputy commissioner said “We have high confidence based on dialogue with industry that this initiative will succeed.”

If the companies sign on, the use of antibiotics to promote growth would be illegal and prescriptions would be required to treat animal illnesses.  If compliance isn’t achieved, the Food and Drug Administration could push for legislative change.

Craig Rowels, Pork producer: “I think first and foremost it’s important to understand that antibiotics are used primarily for the treatment, prevention and control. And when we think about the uses that are most important to producers, we want to make sure that we have a tool, like an antibiotic to treat that animal when they do get sick. That’s what is important. We know that the first step in a safe food supply is to have a healthy animal available to go into that food supply.”   

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