The FDA yesterday called on drug companies to help limit the use of antibiotics in farm animals, a decades-old practice that scientists say has contributed to a surge in dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria. The announcement follows a dangerous practice over the past 35 years of overuse of antibiotics on factory-scale animal farms.
Antibiotic drugs like penicillin are routinely mixed with animal feed and water for a number of reasons. Food Court reported last week on the presence of antibiotics in poultry feed. Tom Philpott wrote on the three main uses of antibiotics for Mother Jones yesterday. He explains the three uses :
The first is growth promotion. For reasons that are little understood, when animals get small daily doses of the the stuff, they grow faster. The second is disease prevention. When you stuff animals together in filthy conditions, they tend to get sick and pass diseases among themselves rapidly. So the industry likes to dose them regularly to keep them from getting sick. The third use is disease treatment—an animal comes down with a bug and gets treated with antibiotics.
In addressing these three uses, the FDA’s new rule only attacks one – antibiotics used to promote growth. Here is the new guidelines from the FDA:
Under this new voluntary initiative, certain antibiotics would not be used for so-called “production” purposes, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency in an animal. These antibiotics would still be available to prevent, control or treat illnesses in food-producing animals under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Mr. Philpott and other critics quickly pounced on the fact that the new guidelines are voluntary. There is little the FDA can do directly if a production facility does not follow these recommended guidelines. The guidelines become still harder to enforce because there is virtually no way to distinguish when a facility is giving animals antibiotics to “prevent, control, or treat illnesses” versus for growth promotion.
In a sense the rule is a mirage. It appears as though the FDA is regulating the use of antibiotics given to animals, but in reality nothing has changed.
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