FDA Changing Course on Antibiotics in Livestock

Publication: The Los Angeles Times

Author: Jill U. Adams


01/09/2012 - Only 20% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to people who are sick with bacterial infections, such as ear and urinary tract infections and pneumonia. Most of the penicillin, tetracycline and other antibiotic drugs used in this country are given to livestock that are perfectly healthy.

Farmers have been putting these medicines in animal feed since the 1950s. They say the drugs help protect herds from infectious diseases and help animals grow faster.

But for at least 40 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been concerned that the widespread practice may be fueling the growth of human pathogens that are no longer vulnerable to doctors' front-line drugs.

In the last few weeks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made two rulings addressing the use of antibiotics in animals that will end up as food on our dinner tables:

  • On Dec. 22, the FDA pulled the plug on procedures, begun in 1977, that might have ended the practice of feeding penicillin and tetracycline to livestock.
  • On Jan. 4, the agency issued an order that prohibits certain uses, including preventive uses, of another class of antibiotics also used to treat pneumonia and other infections in people.
The two moves may seem contradictory. But the FDA asserts that both decisions were made in the interest of preserving antibiotics that are medically important for humans.

Some public health advocates agree that the latest moves indicate a new willingness by the government to tackle the longstanding issue.

In finally dropping its long-stalled plans to limit the use of penicillin and tetracycline in farm animals, the FDA signaled that it intends "to regulate more than just a few drugs," said Laura Rogers, who directs the Pew Charitable Trusts' campaign on human health and industrial farming. Seen in that light, last week's ruling limiting the use of cephalosporin antibiotics in agriculture "is the first step toward a broader regulatory approach," she said. (The Pew campaign opposes routine use of antibiotics in food animals.)

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Read the full article, FDA Changing Course on Antibiotics in Livestock, on the Los Angeles Times' Web site.

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