FDA Phase-Out of Livestock Antibiotics is Only Voluntary and Partial

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to do something about the abundance of antibiotics given to farm animals. But the agency’s action fell short of what’s required, critics say.


The new FDA rules were prompted by concerns that the widespread use of antibiotics in cattle, chickens and other farm animals has helped create resistant “superbugs” that threaten human health.


Under the changes, certain drugs will no longer be used on farms, while others will be given if prescribed by veterinarians.


That’s assuming industry goes along with the plan, because the FDA is only asking farmers and drug manufacturers to alter their methods for raising livestock.


FDA officials claimed a voluntary approach would be the quickest way to implement the rules. Michael Taylor, the FDA’s top food safety official, told the media that making compliance mandatory would have created “legalistic, product-by-product regulatory proceedings that would take years to complete.”


Instead, “there will be fewer approved uses, and the remaining uses will be under tighter control,” Taylor said in justifying the voluntary decision.


Companies will have 90 days to decide if they will agree to the plan, and have three years after that to do their part.


Public health and consumer advocates said there was some good in the FDA move. But they also claimed the approach lacks enforcement, and could allow companies to easily ignore or circumvent the new standards.


Representative Louise M. Slaughter (D-New York), a microbiologist who has called for limiting the use of certain antibiotics in humans and animals, called the agency’s efforts “an inadequate response” that “falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis,” according to The Washington Post.


The FDA’s policy amounts to “an early holiday gift to industry,” Natural Resources Defense Council health attorney Avinash Kar said in a statement. “It is a hollow gesture that does little to tackle a widely recognized threat to human health. FDA has essentially followed a voluntary approach for more than 35 years, but use of these drugs to raise animals has increased.”


The FDA said that it also plans to halt over-the-counter sales of antibiotics to farmers, and require them to instead get a veterinarian’s approval to administer such drugs to their livestock.


It’s been estimated that up to 80% of all antibiotics sold annually in the U.S. are used in agriculture. Numerous studies have detailed the threat to human health that comes from the use of antibiotics on livestock. It is estimated that 23,000 Americans die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

FDA Finalizes Voluntary Rules on Phasing out Certain Antibiotics in Livestock (by Brady Dennis, Washington Post)

F.D.A. Restricts Antibiotics Use for Livestock (by Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)

Phasing Out Certain Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals (Food and Drug Administration)

Failure to Curb Use of Antibiotics in Livestock Signals Danger for Humans (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

FDA Quietly Ends Attempt to Regulate Antibiotics in Animal Feed (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

80% of U.S. Antibiotics Go to Farm Animals (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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