Tuesday, 17 December 2013

U.S. aims to limit antibiotics for farm animals

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has laid out a plan so that farmers will no longer use antibiotics to fatten up animals.
The overuse of antibiotics for minor medical conditions (as reported by Digital Journal earlier this year) is not the only concern in relation to the rise of antibiotic resistant microbes. Antibiotic resistance is also occurring in fields and with farm animals.
Many farmers add antibiotics to animal feed or drinking water of cattle, hogs, poultry and other food-producing animals to help them gain weight faster or use less food to gain weight. One side-issue is that antibiotics can often end up in the environment - for example ending up in streams, being spread to crops as fertilizer, or getting carried around by birds - and so they are potentially a threat to public health. This relates to health issues with the human body and the accelerated rate of bacteria becoming resistant to the very drugs that are designed to kill them. This is a serious issue. According to the Washington Post, at least 2 million people in the United States become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year. At least 23,000 people die as a result.
Across the U.S., agricultural practices have been blamed for making this worse by using concentrated feed operations that leak antibiotics into surrounding waterways. This is not a new argument. Back in 1977, the FDA first pointed out that the non-therapeutic use of penicillin and tetracycline in livestock could give rise to new super-bugs resistant to antibiotics.


To slow the problem of antibiotic resistance, the FDA has announced new guidance for farmers. No longer will farmers be able to give animals antibiotics to make livestock or poultry grow bigger. Moreover, if an antibiotic is needed to treat a sick animal, farmers will have to get a prescription from a veterinarian. Importantly, this measure starts as a voluntary plan with industry and not a piece of legislation. Companies have 90 days to write to the FDA, saying they intend to follow the new program. After that, they’ll have three years to phase in the changes.
To explain why, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA, told CNN: "With these changes, there will be fewer approved uses, and the remaining uses will be under tighter control."
As to whether pharmaceutical companies will co-operate, Taylor thinks that they will do so, adding "Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort."
statement from the FDA expands on this further: “Once manufacturers voluntarily make these changes, the affected products can then only be used in food-producing animals to treat, prevent, or control disease under the order of or by prescription from a licensed veterinarian."
Reactions from the farming community have been mixed. The American Meat Institute and the Animal Health Institute supports the move as apparent in a quote from Clinton Lewis, Jr., the executive vice president and president of U.S. operations for Zoetis, the country’s largest animal pharmaceutical company, who told POLITICO: “We agree with [FDA] that this is the fastest way to address their questions and concerns.”
As to whether the measures will work Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), is unsure. She has issued a statement where she says: "The FDA’s voluntary guidance is an inadequate response to the overuse of antibiotics on the farm with no mechanism for enforcement and no metric for success."
In support, Keeve Nachman, who studies food production at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Popular Science: "Even if it were observed by the industry, there’s no guarantee that the usage profile for these drugs would change."
With the FDA taking measures, calls have been made in Canada for a similar reduction in the use of antibiotics for farm animals. Dr. Doug Weir President Ontario Medical Association has told Medical News: "Ontario's doctors are concerned about the growing rate of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Patients are at risk of becoming sicker, taking longer to recover and it some cases dying from previously treatable diseases. Data shows that we can reduce antibiotic resistant bacteria when the use of antibiotics is modified. Adopting the recommendations in the report will help us achieve this."

Posted by Tim Sandle

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