Thursday, April 12, 2012

FDA Shortchanges Public in New Voluntary Antibiotic Policy

Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new policy regarding the administering of antibiotics to livestock. (Over 70 percent of antibiotics used in this country are given to healthy animals to get them bigger faster.) Unfortunately, it’s a voluntary program that falls far short of the outright ban many pine for. The positive? The issue's increased visibility will only lead to heightened awareness and consumer backlash to the practice.

Here's the lead from the New York Times article about the move, plus two reactions to the FDA's announcement by proponents of an outright ban.

New York Times:
"Farmers and ranchers will for the first time need a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in farm animals, in hopes that more judicious use of the drugs will reduce the tens of thousands of human deaths that result each year from the drugs’ overuse.

"The Food and Drug Administration announced the new rule Wednesday after trying for more than 35 years to stop farmers and ranchers from feeding antibiotics to cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals simply to help the animals grow larger. Using small amounts of antibiotics over long periods of time leads to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs’ effects, endangering humans who become infected but cannot be treated with routine antibiotic therapy.

"At least two million people are sickened and an estimated 99,000 die every year from hospital-acquired infections, the majority of which result from such resistant strains. It is unknown how many of these illnesses and deaths result from agricultural uses of antibiotics, but about 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals."
Center for Science in the Public Interest Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal:
"The Food and Drug Administration's new policies intended to reduce the overuse of important antibiotics in animal production are tragically flawed. 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.

"The announcement at least indicates that the agency recognizes a 'public health imperative' to tackle this problem. Decades of misuse have led to some common pathogens, like Salmonella, becoming more virulent and less treatable. The FDA knows it can no longer afford to ignore antibiotic resistance.

"The problem of antimicrobial resistance, and the contribution of animal agriculture to that problem, is urgent and global. The United States needs to take a leadership role in bringing comprehensive, effective action, in both the agricultural and medical spheres, to bear. The time for half-measures and voluntary steps has passed."
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Congress's champion for a ban:

“This is a step in the right direction, but much more must be done. Antibiotic-resistant diseases now kill more Americans than AIDS and this issue needs to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. Of course if an animal is sick it should be treated, but the misuse of antibiotics in animal feed is destroying the effectiveness of antibiotics and limiting our ability to treat human illnesses.

“‘Nonbinding recommendations’ are not a strong enough antidote to the problem, particularly when we know that banned antibiotics are still being detected. So today’s announcement is a step forward but much more must be done to ensure the safety of our food supply."

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