Last August Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey. In September the same company recalled 185,000 pounds from the same plant. Both recalls came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found meat tainted with salmonella Heidelberg, a particularly nasty bacteria resistant to existing antibiotics.
In the waning days of 2011, the FDA delivered factory farms a generous gift: unregulated use of antibiotics. Any concerns CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operations) had that the FDA might curtail the unnecessary use of one of medicine’s essential remedies was quietly shoveled onto the manure pile.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or the Agency) is withdrawing two 1977 notices of opportunity for a hearing (NOOH), which proposed to withdraw certain approved uses of penicillin and tetracyclines intended for use in feeds for food-producing animals based in part on microbial food safety concerns.\1\
There it is, in their own words. After 34 years of foot dragging, the FDA has quietly thrown up its hands and backed away from any pretense of heeding its own warnings about overuse of antibiotics.
Ignoring its own warnings
The “subtherapeutic” use of antibiotics is standard practice in factory farms, and it is understandable. Any time members of a species are crowded into spaces too small for normal life, illness takes up residence. Stress, inappropriate feed (such as grain for ruminants) and poor sanitation (no matter how often crowded pens are cleaned) make animals more susceptible. Disease lowers profits. Subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics are the livestock industry’s insurance policy. They make it possible to continue crowding animals together to meet the huge demand for meat.
On June 28, 2010, the FDA issued guidelines calling for the voluntary reduction of antibiotic use in livestock production. The report cited studies from as far back as 1969 that raised red flags about antibiotic use.
The meat industry responded with its usual invective, and the guidelines remained in draft form. Eighteen months later the FDA has backed away from even the moderate suggestions they made to industry. Although the agency insists it “remains concerned about the issue of antimicrobial resistance,” the FDA plans only “voluntary reform” for the foreseeable future.
New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter posted a response on her website, writing: “We need to get our head out of the sand and start taking public health advice from scientists rather than industry lobbyists.”
That won’t happen without public pressure. Sign the petition below to send a message to the FDA that overuse of antibiotics on factory farms must stop.
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