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Thursday, June 4, 2015

FDA Finally Gets a Grip on Antibiotics

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 4:00 PM

  • EM Karuna

To drug or not to drug? That question was answered definitively this week when the Food and Drug Administration announced its “final rule” requiring veterinary oversight when administering antimicrobial drugs to food animals. 

The new rule, called the Veterinary Feed Directive, requires that antibiotics be “used only when necessary for assuring animal health” and that they be administered by veterinarians who are actively engaged with the animals, the animals' caretakers, and have examined the animals to whom they're giving the medications. It's slated to take effect December 2016.

Until now, many of the food animals raised in the United States have been consuming numerous antimicrobial drugs as part of their regular diets, a practice that began back in the 1950s after it was found that including the drugs on a regular basis could dramatically increase their weight. This included many drugs used both for animals and human beings which, over time, has contributed to the rise of antibiotics-resistant microbial infections, a proposition long resisted by the country's conventional food producers, who were able to purchase the medication in bulk from feed suppliers.

Tuesday's announcement was the latest action taken by the government to address the issue of antibiotic resistance. In 2013, the FDA issued Guidance For Industry #213, which encouraged animal pharmaceuticals manufactures to remove labels which claimed their drugs promoted animal growth but the guidelines were only voluntary.

The country's big food producers, including California-based Foster Farms, the largest poultry producer on the West Coast, have been anticipating this action and announced steps to further decrease their dependence on antimicrobials in animal feed.

“We share a common goal with medical, veterinary and government leaders in working to curb antibiotic-resistance in humans that may be linked to livestock production,” read a statement issued by Foster Farms after SF Weekly contacted them. “Foster Farms is working toward a goal of eliminating the use of all antibiotics that are used in human medicine, except in those instances where the clinical health of a flock is at risk. The company does not use antibiotics for growth promotion or feed efficiency.“

As the FDA made its announcement Tuesday, legislation addressing the same issue was being passed on the floor of the California Senate, where SB 27, which would require food animal producers in the state to only use antimicrobials when needed for the sake of animals' health, to be administered by veterinarians. The bill, authored by Sen. Jerry Hill (D - San Mateo), has now moved on to the Assembly.

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Eric S. Burkett


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