The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it will ask livestock producers, drug companies and veterinarians to curb the use of antibiotics to promote growth in food-producing animals -- a widespread practice that has been shown to create drug resistance in microbes.
The presence of such "superbugs," as they're sometimes called, threatens public health because if they sicken humans, they can be impossible to treat.
The FDA's recommendations included guidelines to help the industry phase out the antibiotics for "production use" and transfer oversight of the drugs for therapeutic work to veterinarians (that is, require a prescription). The FDA also offered draft guidance to drug companies for labeling their products to require a prescription and draft regulations to allow veterinarians to authorize the use of "certain drugs" in feed.
"This new strategy will ensure farmers and veterinarians can care for animals while ensuring the medicines people need remain safe and effective," said agency commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg in a statement.
The guidelines could have a big impact on Minnesota's livestock industry. Minnesota is the nation's third-biggest hog producer, and the leading state for turkey production and processing.
Also, Austin-based Hormel Foods and Minnetonka-based Cargill are two of the nation's biggest ground turkey providers, while Cargill is also a major pork and beef producer.
Critics worried the FDA's "voluntary initiative" would not be enough.
"This is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., a physician who has been working for years in Congress to prevent overuse of antibiotics and preserve their effectiveness for medical treatment, in a statement. "'Nonbinding recommendations' are not a strong enough antidote to the problem ... additionally, the FDA's pace here has been nothing short of glacial."
Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Avinash Kar called the FDA's action a "make-believe solution."
The council and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 2011 to require the FDA to withdraw approval for non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.
In March, a federal judge ordered the agency to begin work to withdraw approval.
In a statement, Kar called on the FDA to "meet [its] legal obligation," and move ahead with that process, saying that Wednesday's voluntary motion was "an ineffective response to the real and sobering threat of rising antibiotic resistance."
A voluntary approach will lead to faster results and prove more effective, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, said in February. Rescinding approval for drugs used in livestock is a laborious and time-consuming process, he said.
The American Meat Institute, the Washington-based trade association for packers and processors of meat and poultry, said in a statement it is reviewing the guidance and will work with the FDA.
"The goal of giving veterinarians greater oversight of antibiotic use in food animals is commendable, but cattlemen are concerned with the feasibility of implementing the veterinary feed directives, given practical hurdles," said Tom Talbot, chairman of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's cattle health and well-being committee, in a statement.
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune & Bloomberg News