January 23, 2018

FDA Not Withdrawing Antibiotics from Animal Feed

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not going to withdraw the antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline from animal feed. The statement was published in the Federal Register before the holidays this year and was not announced in a news release or bulletin.

This is the official post:

“The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) is withdrawing two 1977 notices of opportunity for a hearing (NOOH), which proposed to withdraw certain approved uses of penicillin and tetracyclines intended for use in feeds for food-producing animals based in part on microbial food safety concerns.”

The FDA previously cited three statutory grounds they were using to defend the withdrawal:

  • The drugs are not shown to be safe
  • Lack of substantial evidence of effectiveness
  • Failure to submit required reports

Back in 1977, the FDA acknowledged the potential health threat of widespread antibiotic use in livestock and planned to withdraw the drug approvals, but the agency says it wants to “focus its efforts for now on the potential for voluntary reform and the promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health.”

Antibiotics are given to livestock in order to prevent disease outbreaks in “confined animal feeding operations” (CAFO). They are also used to increase an animal’s growth rate by promoting “feed efficiency”. This means that an animal will gain more weight per pound of food they are fed.

This certainly can make farms more efficient and increase profits, but there are some serious problems associated with routinely giving otherwise healthy livestock small amounts of preventative antibiotics, called “subtherapeutic” doses.

  • Antibiotics are becoming more scarce. In fact, up to 80% of all available antibiotics are given to livestock. This means that, in the event of a serious disease outbreak, there may not be enough drugs to treat human beings.
  • Bacteria and viruses develop resistance to antibiotics over time. Scientists say that dosing animals preemptively with antibiotics increases the number of bacteria which develop resistance to drugs. And drug-resistant bacteria are becoming a serious problem. Infections caused by these “super bugs” cost this country $26 billion every year. Scientists estimate that up to 70,000 Americans die every year of drug-resistant bacterial infections. In fact, outbreaks of drug-resistant E. coli and Salmonella are becoming more common. And more deadly.
  • These drugs are leaching into public waterways, giving rise to concerns about the effects on fish and other wildlife, as well as the effect on evolving bacteria and ultimately human health. Animals don’t completely metabolize antibiotics, so the active compounds pass right through the body and into water sources.

Consumer groups, some members of Congress, and other organizations have criticized this decision by the FDA. In fact, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced HR 1549, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) in 2009. The American Medical Association, the Humane Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, support this bill.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit in May 2011 to force the FDA to end antibiotic use in animal feed. The NRDC is planning to fight this new decision in court. The organizations Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) and Keep Antibiotics Working also oppose this new move by the FDA.

The FDA is pushing a voluntary strategy for limiting antibiotic use, which many consumer groups have criticized as being too lax. To comment on this action, please visit Regulations.gov. You can also look for these seals on the food you buy that ensure that antibiotics were not given to the animals on the farm:

  • USDA Certified Organic
  • American Grassfed Certified
  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • Certified Humane
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