Tuesday, January 17, 2012

FDA's proposed ban on certain antibiotics in livestock, new research put fresh attention on issue

Early this month, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on a class of antibiotics in livestock for fear the practice is fostering bacterial resistance to antibiotics used to treat a wide range of human infections. Public health officials say the move indicates "a new willingness by the government to tackle the longstanding issue," but some think public misconception about antibiotic use in livestock is driving the decision.

It's not clear how how much use of antibiotics in livestock affects humans, but those who work with farm animals are at risk for becoming colonized by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Jill Adams reports for the Los Angeles Times. Advocates of antibiotic use in livestock cite studies that diminish human risk, like a 2004 paper that says contamination between animals and humans is a "two-way street." (Read more)

Resistance to antibiotics has become a global public health issue. Michael Fielding of Meatingplace reports German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner has submitted legislation to limit antibiotic use after a study revealed E.coli in chickens. Germany is Europe's third-largest poultry producer. But Meatingplace blogger Sarah Hubbart writes a new study from the University of Glasgow in Scotland suggests livestock likely doesn't "have a major impact on antibiotic resistance in humans," and the researchers are urging British lawmakers to reconsider antibiotic bans in livestock.

Hubbart says that research is important in light of the recent FDA decision. Iowa State University professor Scott Hurd, a former U.S. agriculture undersecretary, said misconceptions about antibiotic use are widspread. "They think it is just being poured into the feed to make the animals grow better," he said. Tom Talbot, former president of the California Cattlemen's Association, thinks people believe that, too. He told Tim Hearden of Capital Press that "The idea that we're using this enormous quantity of antibiotics in beef cattle prior to slaughter, I think that's a misconception." Hearden reports livestock industry representatives don't think the FDA's recent change will have a big impact on operations, but they fear further restrictions.

The FDA is accepting public comments about the proposed ban on certain antibiotic use in livestock until March 6. Comments can be submitted here.

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