Society

FDA Announces Antibiotic Phase-Out in Animal Food; Is it Too Little, Too Late?

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Federal regulators have finally announced that they are introducing a plan intended to help phase out the use of antibiotics in animal feed in the United States during the next several years.“Rampant antibiotic use is creating stronger and more resistant bacteria, and the government is finally taking action,” writes VegNews.com.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking the nation’s producers of farm-animal feed for changes that will make major differences in the diets of cattle, poultry, pigs, and any other animals slaughtered for food or producing a byproduct which is consumed; such as eggs and milk. The goal is to slow down the development of antibiotic-resistent bacteria, which is now proven to be affecting human health.

Meat and poultry producers in America purchased approximately 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics in 2011-- more than triple of the amount sold for human use during the same year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Although antibiotics could be administered to animals just as with humans to help fight infections, the drugs also have growth-increasing qualities that are highly valuable in the meat industry.

USA Today interviewed William Flynn, the Deputy Director for Science Policy with the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, who stated that "no one is actually quite sure why antibiotics and antimicrobials make animals grow faster. But the effect allows farmers to feed these animals less and have a much more profitable end product."

The practice of adding antibiotics to animal feed, not only to control disease, but also to increase growth dates back to the 1950’s, when Successful Farming Magazine published an article with a title that tells the entire story, “They’ve Doubled Gains with New Drugs.”

Dr.Alan G. Mathew of the Department of Animal Science at the Universiy of Tennessee, wrote in 2007 “...use of antibiotics for agricultural purposes, particularly for growth enhancement...has been shown to contribute to the increased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria of human significance." In other words, it is making humans sick.

Dr. Gail Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, told CNN, "We feed antibiotics to sick animals, which is completely appropriate, but we also put antibiotics in their feed and in their water to help them grow faster and to compensate for unhygienic conditions. If you have to keep the animals healthy with drugs, I would argue you need to re-examine the system."

The FDA announced it is asking for animal feed companies to decide during the next 90 days if they will sign on to a voluntary program. If they enlist, they’ll promise to “voluntarily remove growth enhancement and feed efficiency indications from the approved uses of their medically important antimicrobial drug products,” according to the FDA, “and move the therapeutic uses of these products from over-the-counter (OTC) availability to marketing status requiring veterinary oversight.”

The recommendation was issued by the FDA on Wednesday, and they hope that the companies that ask to voluntarily participate will fully implement the changes in three years’ time.

Humane concerns should be enough to bring about these changes. Animal protectionists suggest that it should be done for the sake of the animals being unnecessarily drugged. But, the real impetus for governmental action is that, with animals consuming about 80 percent of the nation’s antibiotic supplies, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” are emerging at increased rates among livestock because of resistance.

A superbug--also called multi-resistant—meaning it carries several resistance genes. That’s then transferred through consumption of meat and animal byproducts to millions of Americans.

An FDA report released in April showed that 81 percent of raw ground turkey tested by the agency contained traces of anti-biotic resistant bacteria, with similar tests on pork, beef and chicken yielding similarly disturbing results.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that 2 million people in the US are contracting drug-resistant infections annually right now, causing around 23,000 death a year.

It is important to use these drugs only when medically necessary," the FDA says on its website. "Governments around the world consider antimicrobial-resistant bacteria a major threat to public health."

The FDA claims it has, “every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us” in their effort to phase out antibiotic use among animals. However, as the Times points out, the agency has not announced what, if any sanctions, will be imposed if a company volunteers to participate and then is found in violation.

Meanwhile, some are saying a voluntary program simply doesn’t do enough.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) told the LA Times. "Sadly, this guidance is the biggest step the FDA has taken in a generation to combat the overuse of antibiotics in corporate agriculture, and it falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis."

VegNews.com reports that, according to according to Mother Jones, the FDA has issued a proposal for a statute that would mandate all farm staff seek the approval of veterinarians before administering antibiotics to their animals, rather than using them indiscriminately to bolster growth and ward off infections that have become common in the unsanitary conditions of factory farms. It also urges consideration of a vegetarian or vegan diet

Sources: Vega News, RT, LA Times, Liebert Open Access, Veg News