Antibiotic Resistance in Food Animals: FDA Takes Strong Stance, But Public Health May Remain At Risk Until Congress Acts

cattle-grazing-usda-copyLeadership at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made it abundantly clear last week that the low-dose usage of antibiotics in food animals, simply to promote growth or improve feed efficiency, needlessly contributes to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and poses a serious threat to public health. Despite the fact that the FDA is taking a hard-line stance on the issue, I find it frustrating to see that the agency appears to be hamstrung from taking the necessary steps to mandate industry end the risky practice. Even more exasperating is that it appears that the FDA may actually relax a current directive that already regulates antibiotic use. However, unlike many critics, I don’t believe that this is an example of the Obama administration buckling under industry pressure. Rather, I view it as a loud and stern call for Congress to take action. Producers concerned more about profit than protecting public health are not going to cut their dependence on non-therapeutic antibiotic use in food animals unless lawmakers pass strict legislation.

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AVMA Member Hopeful Association Will Revisit Antimicrobial Position

Raymond J. Tarpley, D.V.M., Ph.D.
U.S. industrial animal agriculture routinely incorporates low-dose concentrations of antimicrobials into the feed or water of healthy production animals for the purposes of growth promotion and feed efficiency, an application approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This practice selects for resistance among bacteria exposed to antimicrobials, and there has been concern that such resistance could negatively impact public health. Considerable evidence is accumulating that these resistant organisms (and/or antimicrobial residues) move beyond the food animal production operation via 1. food products, 2. soils (upon which animal wastes are applied), 3. water (waste runoff into surface streams and seepage into underground aquifers), 4. crops (antimicrobial uptake from soil), 5. air (blown out of animal holding facilities by industrial tunnel fans), 6. insect carriage (e.g., flies), 7. rodent carriage and 8. human carriage (e.g., farm personnel).

During a time when bacterial resistance to an array of antimicrobials is increasing, renewed attention has been directed toward the threat that resistance arising from low-dose use of antimicrobials on food animal production farms could pose for human and veterinary pharmaceuticals, particularly with fewer novel antimicrobials reaching the market. We now know that resistance to antimicrobials can develop rapidly, extend to other antimicrobials in the same or a different class, and be shared among bacteria through multiple genetic exchange mechanisms within or between genera, culminating in multi-drug resistance in some organisms. While the FDA has recognized the threat that resistance might present, regulatory action has been slow to evolve on this problem, particularly in an atmosphere of industry pushback. Nevertheless, discontinued use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use has been called for by the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and others. Read More >

Public Health & Industrial Farm Animal Production: Setting the Record Straight

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s recent “response” to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production’s final report on the state of industrial animal agriculture is disconcerting. It appears that leadership of the veterinary professional organization is attempting to misuse science to obfuscate and delay critically needed changes in the food animal production system rather than tackling very real public health and environmental threats head on.

PCIFAP public meeting in North Carolina, 4/10/07

PCIFAP public meeting in North Carolina, 4/10/07

For years a groundswell had been building from a widespread group of experts and advocates in the areas of public health, environment, social justice, and animal welfare sounding the alarms about the serious problems industrial food animal production poses. But until the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) decided to take on the politically controversial issue, there had never been a comprehensive examination of industry’s practices by such a respected and diverse panel of experts. Following a grueling 2½ -year discovery process, and despite several overt attempts by industry to discredit it, the Commission concluded that the scientific evidence was too strong and the public health risk too great to ignore and offered a series of consensus recommendations on how to repair our unsafe food animal production system.

The tone and timing of the AVMA’s 38-page response to the PCIFAP final report, 15 months after it was released, is quite telling. The document’s executive summary starts out by suggesting that the PCIFAP’s technical reports (published separately) were “biased,” and that, “the Pew report contains significant flaws and major deviations from both science and reality.” Another telling facet is that the “response” contains very little scientific citation to backup its rebuttal. It’s not a coincidence that this response coincides with the recent revelation that the Obama Administration supports the idea of banning the use of key antibiotics as growth promoters in food animals, which happens to be one of the PCIFAP’s key recommendations. Not to mention, this year’s version of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) appears to have a much better chance of passing than in any prior year.

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