Wednesday, December 11, 2013

FDA wants to phase out most antibiotics used to help raise livestock; critics say it should be mandatory

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced a plan Wednesday that it hopes will help livestock producers "phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food-production purposes, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency," the agency said in a news release. "The plan would also phase in veterinary oversight of the remaining appropriate therapeutic uses of such drugs." The move is prompted by research showing that overuse of antibiotics creates resistance to the drugs, which is believed to be partly responsible for 23,000 humans dying each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. (New York Times photo by Brian Frank: Hogs in a confined feeding house)

The FDA released a report in April saying 81 percent of all the raw ground turkey the agency tested was contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Jacque Wilson and Jen Christensen report for CNN. It also found that 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef, and 39 percent of chicken were contaminated. Citing the Pew Charitable Trusts, the reporters note that about 80 percent of antibiotics by weight in 2011 were sold for meat and poultry production, not human use.

Under the FDA plan, therapeutic uses of antibiotics in animals would require veterinary oversight, meaning the drugs "could be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary orders to treat, prevent or control disease," CNN reports. "Currently, the law tracks only how many antibiotics are sold; it does not mandate data collection on how many animals are given the drugs or how much. Without that information, it is hard to know where antibiotics are used."

The FDA "will ask the drugs’ manufacturers to change labels to rule out using the medicines to make animals grow," Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. "The changes are voluntary for drug companies, but FDA officials said they believed the companies would comply. Companies will have three months to tell the agency whether they will change the labels, and three years to carry out the new rules." Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, told Tavernise, “Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort.” (Read more

The FDA states: "The plan also calls for changing the current over-the-counter status to bring the remaining appropriate therapeutic uses under veterinary oversight. Once a manufacturer voluntarily makes these changes, its medically important antimicrobial drugs can no longer be used for production purposes, and their use to treat, control, or prevent disease in animals will require veterinary oversight." The proposed rule is open for public comment for 90 days, beginning Thursday. (Read more)

UPDATE, Dec. 12: "Some lawmakers and consumer advocates contend the agency should have made the changes mandatory," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D.-N.Y.) called the guidance an 'inadequate response' that falls 'woefully short.' Jeff Duchin, chairman of the Infectious Diseases Society of America's public health committee, said the FDA action 'allows a lot of wiggle room, and we'd like to see them move more quickly.' . . . The FDA's guidance urges drug makers to change drug labels to allow the medicines' use only when medically necessary for livestock." (Read more) And one has to wonder if the industry will do that when animals consume 80 percent of U.S. antibiotics.

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