FDA Seeks Ban on Unnecessary Animal Antibiotics

US - A top US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official has opposed the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to pigs, cattle and chickens to promote growth.
calendar icon 15 July 2009
clock icon 2 minute read

In a written testimony, Joshua Sharfstein, Deputy Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said antibiotics should only be used in farm animals that are sick, and only under the supervision of a veterinarian.

"Purposes other than for the advancement of animal or human health should not be considered judicious use,” said Sharfstein. "Eliminating these uses will not compromise the safety of food.”

"FDA also believes that the use of medications for prevention and control should be under the supervision of a veterinarian," he added.

It was the first time since the late 1970s that an FDA official has publicly advocated limiting the use of antibiotics in agriculture. The agency has the authority to cancel specific uses, but Dr. Sharfstein did not offer a timetable for doing so.

Margaret Mellon, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program, also testified before the committee.

"Livestock production accounts for about 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States each year. Penicillin, tetracycline and other drugs that doctors prescribe to treat human disease are routinely fed to pigs, cattle and chickens to promote growth and protect them in overcrowded, stressful living conditions," she said.

"When bacteria are routinely exposed to antibiotics, they develop resistance to them and become 'superbugs' that can move from animals to humans through food, air and water. Treating a patient infected by a superbug with an ineffective drug can lead to a more serious illness, and if none of the available antibiotics work, resistance becomes a matter of life and death.

"Given there are no new antibiotics under development, unless we preserve the antibiotics we have, the age of miracle antibiotics could come to an end. To make sure that doesn't happen, the FDA should limit antibiotic use in agriculture whenever possible and cancel the use of those antibiotics used in human medicine in livestock production for growth promotion, feed efficiency and routine disease prevention.

"We're encouraged by Dr. Sharfstein's comments at the hearing, and commend Representative Slaughter for shining a light on this critical issue. We urge the FDA to take action to curb this dangerous practice."

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