October 21, 2014

Is the FDA Changing Its Mind About Antibiotic Use in Animals?

In December 2011, the FDA decided not to withdraw the antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline from animal feed. This decision, which was not announced publicly but was quietly published in a post in the Federal Register, was met with widespread criticism by environmental groups and medical professionals.

In a new move, federal drug regulators announced today that ranchers and farmers must restrict extralabel use of a class of antibiotics known as cephalosporins in cattle, swine, chickens, and turkeys. These drugs, which include the names Keflex, Rocephin, Cedax, and Cefzil, are prescribed before surgery and used to treat strep throat, pneumonia, pelvic inflammatory disease, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, and skin infections. These antibiotics are critically important to human health.

Celphalosporins are used to treat infections in cattle, poultry, and pigs, and are injected into fertilized eggs as a matter of course. The FDA wants to restrict some, but not all, uses of this antibiotic in agriculture. Farmers and ranchers are using the drugs in “extralabel” ways. That means the antibiotics are used in ways not directed on the label or in manufacturer documents.

Antibiotics are routinely used as a subtherapeutic treatments to increase an animal’s growth rate and to prevent disease caused by living conditions on large farms. This practice has led to an an increase in antibiotic-resistant pathogens, which concerns scientists and health care workers.

If you’d like to comment on this rule, visit Regulations.gov with the docket number FDA-2008-N-0326. The comment period will open on January 6, 2012. In 2008, 170 comments against and 2 comments supporting the restriction were enough for the FDA to revoke the first order.

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