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FDA recommends limits on antibiotic use in livestock

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued draft guidance that recommends limits on antibiotics in livestock.

The FDA said the recommendation is in response to reports that the use of antibiotics for production or to speed growth in food-producing animals “is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.”

The agency said the overuse of the drugs has led to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat, which can infect humans who eat it. “The development of resistance to these drugs … poses a serious public health threat,” the agency said.

The FDA recommended that antibiotics be used only when necessary for the animal’s health and only with a veterinarian’s supervision.

“Using medically important antimicrobial drugs as judiciously as possible is key to minimizing resistance development and preserving the effectiveness of these drugs as therapies for humans and animals,” said Bernadette Dunham, DVM, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a statement.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said agricultural use accounts for 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S., and such use “provides resistant bacteria with a direct route into people’s kitchens.”

Ted Quaday, head of communications for Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Organic Farming Research Foundation, emphasized that organic production already prohibits use of antibiotics in animals certified organic and that animals treated with antibiotics because of illness are removed from the organic herd. “Steps taken by the FDA today are aimed at regulating industrialized factory farm oriented meat and dairy production, where overuse of antibiotics is eroding the efficacy of our antibiotics in treating human illness,” Quaday said.

Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for Washington, D.C.-based Organic Trade Association, pointed to a resolution adopted by the American Medical Association in 2001 opposing the use of antimicrobials at non-therapeutic levels in agriculture to promote growth, and urged that such uses be ended or phased out. The major concern centered on evidence that such overuse of antibiotics has led to a proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

“While OTA applauds the FDA's response to consumer concerns and scientific findings about the use of antibiotics in agriculture, concerned consumers already have a choice in the marketplace to buy products that have been produced without such use,” Haumann said.

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