Uh oh. This is going to get a lot people who raise livestock upset. And it should be of interest to everyone outside of agriculture, too.
The Obama administration is taking new steps toward restricting the use of antibiotics in hogs and other livestock.
The Food and Drug Administration cited concerns that the routine use of drugs to fatten livestock could lead to increased antibiotic resistance in humans. The agency issued a draft guidance document outlining its thinking that the drugs shouldn’t be used for growth promotion in animals and that veterinarians should oversee all use of antimicrobials on farms.
“Using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production purposes is not in the interest of promoting and protecting” human health, said Joshua Sharf- stein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner.
The agency is taking comment from the public and the industry for 60 days.
The issue is whether the routine use of antibiotic laced feed, a growth enhancing tactic which has been practiced for 40 years, also promotes antibiotic resistance in bacteria which affect humans.
Here is a bit of background on the issue:
The discovery that antibiotics could be used for prevention of infection and growth promotion was serendipitous. Veterinarians began administering antibiotics to sick animals in an effort to determine whether the “miracle drugs” that were saving human lives could also help livestock.45 These experiments led to the discovery that feeding animals small doses of the drugs not only inhibited diseases but also enhanced growth.46 This discovery led in turn to an agricultural revolution, with farmers—especially those in very large operations47—relying increasingly on subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics to keep their livestock healthy and to promote animal growth.48
In the past three decades, agricultural use of antibiotics has increased exponentially. One article has estimated that in the past thirty years, farmers have increased their use of penicillin-type antibiotics in *PG47]farm animals by 600% and their use of tetracycline by 1500%.49 Recent statistical research continues to show an increasing reliance on the routine use of antibiotics for pigs and cattle.50 Larger operations also continue to be more likely to use antibiotics,51 and many rely on additives for periods of time in excess of ninety days.52
Part of the increase in antibiotic use is attributable to the declining effectiveness of the drugs as growth promoters. Over time, the amount of antibiotics needed to promote growth in farm animals has increased significantly. Some sources have suggested that “[r]oughly 10 to 20 times the amount used four decades ago are required to produce the same level of growth in the 1990s.”53 Moreover, even at concentrations approaching therapeutic levels, “the benefits of growth promotion are less now than those reported several decades ago.”54
The increasing use of antibiotics in agriculture has paralleled an astonishing growth in the use of antibiotics generally. In 1954 two million pounds of antibiotics were produced in this country; today more than fifty million pounds of antibiotics are manufactured every year.55 Only half of these antibiotics are consumed by human beings. Most of the remaining tens of millions of pounds annually are given to ani*PG48]mals.56 While some of these antibiotics are used to treat infection, the bulk is mixed into animal feed at subtherapeutic levels.57