Due to the vast uses implemented for antimicrobial drugs in both humans and animals, they have contributed to the development of antimicrobial resistance. It is imperative that we begin to eliminate the use of drugs from the food supply.
Governments around the world consider antimicrobial-resistant bacteria a major threat to public health. Illnesses caused by drug-resistant strains of bacteria are more likely to be potentially fatal when the medicines used to treat them are rendered less effective.
The UN and WHO wants farmers to stop using antibiotics simply to make their animals grow.
Use of antibiotics leads to resistant strains of bacteria in animals and in the environment. (Thus, if you get sick from Salmonella, for example, the strain may be resistant to many antibiotics.) Meat from corn-fed cattle is also far more contaminated with E coli bacteria, partly because corn interferes with ruminant digestion, and partly because the animals are crowded together in filthy conditions. E. coli levels are much lower in grass-fed cattle.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria are increasing in prevalence and cause many healthcare-associated infections and are estimated to cost approximately $4 billion annually.
FDA is working to address the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals for production uses, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency. These drugs are deemed important because they are also used to treat human disease and might not work if the bacteria they target become resistant to the drugs’ effects.
“We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” says William Flynn, DVM, MS, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”
FDA is issuing a final guidance document that explains how companies can work with the agency to voluntarily remove growth enhancement and feed efficiency indications from the approved uses.
Once manufacturers voluntarily make these changes, the affected products can then only be used in food-producing animals to treat, prevent or control disease under the order of or by prescription from a licensed veterinarian.
“This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials, which protects public health and, at the same time, ensures that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” says CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. “We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and animal producers, and we have been working to make this transition as seamless as possible.”
Drugs Primarily in Feed
Flynn explains that all the drugs affected by this plan are antibacterial products. They have long been FDA-approved for production (e.g. growth enhancement) purposes as well as for the treatment, control or prevention of animal diseases. Even today, he says, it is not entirely understood how these drugs make animals grow faster. The drugs are primarily added to feed, although they are sometimes added to the animals’ drinking water.
Bacteria evolve to survive threats to their existence. In both humans and animals, even appropriate therapeutic uses of antibiotics can promote the development of drug resistant bacteria. When such bacteria enter the food supply, they can be transferred to the people who eat food from the treated animal.
In 2010, FDA called for a strategy to phase out production use of medically important antimicrobial products and to bring the remaining therapeutic uses under the oversight of a veterinarian. The guidance document that FDA is issuing on Dec. 11, 2013, which was previously issued in draft form in 2012, lays out such a strategy and marks the beginning of the formal implementation period.
Flynn explains that the final guidance document made participation voluntary because it is the fastest, most efficient way to make these changes. FDA has been working with associations that include those representing drug companies, the feed industry, producers of beef, pork and turkey, as well as veterinarians and consumer groups.
“Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.