A widely held belief among many health and medical professionals, researchers and scientists is that the popular American agricultural practice of dispensing antibiotics to healthy farm animals for growth-enhancement purposes is contributing to the serious public health threat of antibiotic-resistant infections. As more and more evidence comes forward in support of the claim, the Food and Drug Administration appears set to issue a strong set of guidelines within the next few months to govern the practice.
The FDA acknowledges antimicrobial drugs can be beneficial to both humans and animals, but realizes that the growing resistance to these drugs poses a significant public health threat, and thus aims to reduce the overall use of these antimicrobial drugs in effort to preserve their effectiveness.
“Using medically important antimicrobial drugs as judiciously as possible is key to minimizing resistance development and preserving the effectiveness of these drugs as therapies for humans and animals,” said Bernadette Dunham, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a release issued by the FDA. “FDA is committed to working with animal drug sponsors, the veterinary and public health communities, the animal agriculture community, and all other interested stakeholders in developing a practical strategy to address antimicrobial resistance concerns that is protective of both human and animal health.”
Aimed at curbing the growth and spread of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as certain strains of Salmonella and E. coli, the guidelines will call for stronger veterinary oversight of antibiotic use and put an end to the practice of using the antibiotics strictly to promote and speed animal growth.
According to an article in the New York Times, the FDA’s final version of the new guidelines will be available within a few months. Until then, the chatter from both sides is likely to continue. Many medical experts and scientific groups such as the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Medical Association are saying the guidelines are not strong enough.
“Drug use in humans, including overuse and misapplication, clearly accounts for a large share of the surge in antibiotic resistant infections, a huge problem in hospitals in particular. Yet biologists and infectious disease specialists say there is also enormous circumstantial and genetic evidence that antibiotics in farming are adding to the threat,” the New York Times article states.
On the other side, numerous major livestock producers are arguing the guidelines are unnecessary because no direct link has been found between antibiotic use in animals raised for food and the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans.
In a post on PoynterOnline, Al Tomkins points out that many farmers are fearful of U.S. Representative Louise Slaughters bill, “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009,” summarized in italics below.
Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009 — Amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to deny an application for a new animal drug that is a critical antimicrobial animal drug unless the applicant demonstrates that there is a reasonably certainty of no harm to human health due to the development of antimicrobial resistance attributable to the nontherapeutic use of the drug. Defines “critical antimicrobial animal drug” as a drug intended for use in food-producing animals that contains specified antibiotics or other drugs used in humans to treat or prevent disease or infection caused by microorganisms. Requires the Secretary to withdraw approval of a nontherapeutic use of such drugs in food-producing animals two years after the date of enactment of this Act unless certain safety requirements are met. Directs specified congressional committees to hold hearings on the implementation of such a withdrawal of approval.
Besides having an enormous impact on American public health, the FDA guidelines also have potential to largely influence the medical, veterinary and industrialized agriculture communities, as well as consumers in general. The debate surrounding this heated topic has been going on for some time now, even before the FDA first issued a warning back in June about the use of antibiotics in livestock, so it will be interesting to follow the chatter around this heated topic over the next few months and see how it ultimately plays out in the end.
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