Monday, July 12, 2010

FDA Proposes Limits on Antibiotics in Livestock

In news that you may have missed, the Food & Drug Administration has proposed limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock. The Washington Post reported two weeks ago that the FDA has published draft guidance that would limit the circumstances in which farmers could give antibiotics to pigs, cows and chickens:
Joshua M. Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner, said antibiotics should be used only to protect the health of an animal and not to help it grow or improve the way it digests its feed.
You and I need a prescription for antibiotics, but farmers can simply add it to animal feed:
U.S. farmers routinely give antibiotics to food-producing animals to treat illnesses, prevent infection and encourage growth. The drugs are often added to drinking water and feed. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States are given to animals.

Many of the same classes of drugs fed to animals are deemed "critically" important in human medicine by the FDA, including penicillin, tetracyclines and sulfonamides. In recent years, public health experts say there has been an alarming increase in the number of bacteria that have grown resistant to antibiotics, leading to severe, untreatable illnesses in humans.
The farmers are pushing back:
"Show us the science that use of antibiotics in animal production is causing this antibiotic resistance," said Dave Warner of the pork council. "How do we know [the problem] is not on the human side? Where is the science for you to go forward on this?"
In other words, how do we know that human use of antibiotics isn't making the pigs sick?

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