Thursday, April 12, 2012

Limiting Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals

On Jan. 7, 2012 on this blog, I suggested that the FDA would probably not try to limit the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in farm animals until the problem of antibiotic resistance got much worse. I’m happy to say I may have been wrong. This week the FDA announced that it is issuing “guidance” to farmers, veterinarians, and drug companies in an attempt to get them to voluntarily use fewer antibiotics solely to increase meat or milk yield in healthy animals. The animal agriculture industry uses nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics per year, mostly in animal feed, even when the animals are healthy.

Compliance with the FDA’s new guidance will be voluntary for now. That leaves one wondering whether it’ll have any real effect. But apparently the FDA is serious about this. The FDA has promised to monitor the usage of antibiotics over the next three years. If antibiotic use does not decline as the FDA hopes, the FDA will “…consider further action as warranted….”. The message to the animal agriculture industry is clear; reduce the use of antibiotics voluntarily, or we’ll reduce it for you. 

It’s the right approach. The FDA is well aware that the meat production industry relies heavily on antibiotics to increase yield. The agency has no desire to disrupt a major U.S. industry unnecessarily. Yes, it’s important that we do something to try to do something about the current rapid rate of development of antibiotic resistance, but that has to be balanced against the potential negative consequences of taking too severe an action too quickly. The FDA’s attempt at a little arm-twisting might just work. And if it doesn’t, action can always be taken later.

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