Antibiotics in Animals

Publication: New York Times

Author: Shelly Hearne, Managing Director, Pew Health Group

07/02/2010 - Twice in two days, you had it right when you noted how strong lobbies can override sound science (“Antibiotics and Agriculture,” editorial, June 30; “Antibiotics in Animals Need Limits, F.D.A. Says,” news article, June 29).

For 30 years, the Food and Drug Administration has flirted with attempts to curtail the overuse of lifesaving antibiotics in food animal production. And for 30 years, special interests have managed to block progress, while antibiotics become less and less effective in saving lives.

The F.D.A. correctly calls for eliminating the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. The agency also calls for “judicious” use in preventing sickness. Up to 70 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are fed to animals that are not sick. Yet under the F.D.A.’s proposed guidelines, agribusiness could continue to routinely feed antibiotics to entire flocks or herds to prevent illnesses they may never encounter. This approach to prevention would never be allowed in human medicine, and it should not be allowed in animals.

The F.D.A. has finally acknowledged the problem of overuse of antibiotics in industrial farming as an urgent public health issue. Now the agency must come up with effective, mandatory solutions to this threat to human health. In addition, Congress must act on the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would finally phase out nontherapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in farming.

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