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Public health advocates criticize FDA for not stopping meat industry’s rampant antibiotic use

April 12th, 2012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The FDA’s call to the livestock industry to voluntarily limit its routine use of antibiotics is tantamount to taking no action, say critics of the FDA’s plan, announced Wednesday.

Livestock producers use daily antibiotics to keep animals healthy in crowded pens. (Photo: CAFO)

The agency “is pretending to act while barely acting at all,” said Avinash Kar, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was among several public health advocates who scoffed at the idea that pharmaceutical and livestock companies would change their ways in response to government advice that carries no penalties.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its guidance for the “judicious use in food-producing animals of antibiotics that are important in treating humans” after a recent court ruling found that the agency has an obligation to regulate antibiotic use in the livestock industry. The court finding had raised hopes that the agency would curtail or possibly ban the routine use of certain antibiotics by the livestock industry.

The FDA also issued two draft documents, which are still open to public comment before being finalized, that aim to guide the pharmaceutical companies and veterinarians on best practices involving antibiotics for farm animals.

The practice of including preventative antibiotics in livestock feed, which the meat industry says is necessary to keep animals healthy in crowded pens and which accelerates the animals’ growth, has long been criticized as eroding the effectiveness of these same antibiotics in treating human disease.

Bacteria grow resistant to the antibiotics, which robs the medical community of reliable tools to treat tuberculosis, malaria, strep and other infections.

The FDA’s directive asks livestock manufacturers and drug companies to stop what’s known as “production” use of antibiotics, or the administration of antibiotics to fatten the animals.

Critics immediately assailed the FDA’s guidance approach, saying that drug manufacturers and the livestock industry, which both profit from the sale of the antibiotics and the growth of livestock animals, cannot be expected to patrol themselves.

“FDA’s guidance will not help solve the problem because the guidance has no binding force: it is still entirely up to the livestock industry to decide whether to follow the recommendations or ignore them,” Kar said.

“And even if we hear encouraging promises from industry, there is no assurance that improvements will actually follow. In fact, based on what we have seen so far we fully expect that non-binding guidance will do nothing to change the overuse of antibiotics in healthy livestock. Why is that? We have essentially been using a system of voluntary action since public health risks were revealed over three decades ago. Also, the [FDA] guidance has existed in draft form since 2010. There is no reason to expect different results from more of the same.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest drew a similar conclusion that the FDA was shirking its responsibility to regulate.

“The Food and Drug Administration’s new policies intended to reduce the overuse of important antibiotics in animal production are tragically flawed,” said Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “They rely too heavily on the drug industry and animal producers to act voluntarily in the best interest of consumers. Protecting public health is an authority and a responsibility that rests squarely with the FDA.”

Many groups, such as the World Health Organization, have warned that if nations don’t curb the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry, people could find themselves stripped of the antibiotic miracle that has made many once-fatal diseases survivable.

According to the group Moms for Antibiotic Awareness, about 70 percent of the antibiotics consumed in the US are used by livestock operations. The group sides with public health experts who believe this widespread, routine use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistant “super bugs”.

“As these dangerous bacteria increase, antibiotics that Americans depend on to stay healthy become increasingly useless. Moreover, children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems like cancer patients are more vulnerable to these types of infections,” the group writes in an article calling for action.

The non-profit recently persuaded Chicago public schools to serve only antibiotic-free meat. Read more here about how Moms Against Antibiotics, supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is pushing for changes.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network


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