Sunday, October 12, 2014

Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals is Still Increasing

According to an FDA report issued recently, the amount of antibiotics sold for use in food-producing animals increased 16% between 2009 and 2012.   The use of cephalosporins, a class of antibiotics widely used in humans, increased by a whopping 37% over the same time period.   Health officials, of course, are worried that the overuse of antibiotics leads to the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, threatening human health.

The FDA issued new guidelines in 2013 that are meant to restrict the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, but it's too early to tell whether they will work.   Basically, the new rules prohibit the use of antibiotics in healthy animals for the sole purpose of increasing weight gain.  Instead, antibiotics may used only in sick animals to treat disease, and only when prescribed by a veterinarian.  The new rules will take effect over the next three years.

Ranchers know that antibiotics cause even healthy animals to gain weight.   That means that ranchers have a big financial incentive to use antibiotics indiscriminately, and veterinarians who work in farm communities will have a financial incentive to write the prescriptions.  The FDA is trying to (gently) nudge the livestock production industry toward practices that are better for society as a whole, but not for the food-producing industry.  So you think the new rules will reduce antibiotic use in food-producing animals very much?  If they don't, what would you suggest we do next?

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