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Federal Antibiotic Regulations Aren’t Cutting It
The staggering amount of antibiotics used in raising industrial livestock continues to rise, according to a recent (Oct. 2) Food and Drug Administration report. And most (70 percent) of those drugs are considered “medically important” for humans.
The report documented a 16 percent increase in antibiotic use in food animals from 2009 to 2012. This is bad news in the global fight against antibiotic resistance, which the World Health Organization calls “a major threat to public health.”
The report completely refutes the industry talking point that “antibiotic use in livestock production has been relatively steady over time.”
Until 2016, when a voluntary phase-out is supposed to be complete, U.S. farmers are free to continue feeding antibiotics to herds and flocks when animals aren’t sick in order to promote faster weight gain. The dangers of this overuse reach far beyond the farm, because it unnecessarily speeds up the evolution of antibiotic resistance in disease-causing microbes – undercutting the drugs’ efficacy for treating sick people when they need them most.
Data like those provided in the FDA report are critical to evaluating any progress by the industry in protecting medically important antibiotics. And it wasn’t easy getting the numbers. It took an act of Congress.
Last December, the FDA published Guidance 213 asking drug makers to change their antibiotic product labeling to delete references to growth promotion. Many companies complied, but the voluntary measure does nothing to prohibit farmers from continuing excessive use.
It’s an important enough problem that it spurred President Obama to issue an executive order creating a task force to tackle the issue.
With 23,000 people dying of antibiotic-resistant infections each year in the U.S., we need to be doing all we can to reverse this deepening public health crisis. The news that the livestock industry is using more antibiotics in food production is evidence that we’re going in the wrong direction.