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The Food and Drug Administration laid out new rules on Wednesday aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock. But consumer groups are blasting the plan because it relies mostly on letting the meat and drug industries voluntarily cut their use.
Many scientists and medical experts are concerned about the growing threat to public health posed by the widespread use of antibiotics in animals.
In the United States, 70-80 percent of the antibiotics sold each year are used not in people, but in animals. They’re mostly given to healthy animals to fatten them up and protect them from the bad conditions in which they’re raised.
As a result, drug resistant bacteria can then be passed to humans, leaving them at risk of getting infections that can’t be controlled. The FDA has been promising for decades to do more to address this issue.
The agency’s new guidelines ask companies to start phasing out the use of antibiotics for non-medical purposes, a process that could take three years. The drugs can still be used to prevent, control or treat illnesses in food-producing animals, under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Avinash Kar, public health staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he's concerned voluntary measures won't work.
"We've essentially had a voluntary measure in place for 35 years since FDA first acknowledged the risks of using antibiotics in livestock feed, and we have seen the use of antibiotics grow exponentially in that period," he said.
According to Kar, the Centers for Disease Control has said that the use of antibiotics in animals results in resistant bacteria in food animals, that resistant bacteria are present in the food supply and transmitted to humans, and that resistant bacteria result in adverse human health consequences.
National Pork Producers Council Chief Veterinarian Dr. Liz Wagstrom said that with antibiotics, their animals probably grow faster because even low doses of antibiotic prevent sub-clinical disease. She added that concern about resistance should not be caused by the antibiotics, but the farm where the antibiotics are used.
"It's up to everybody to carefully use these antibiotics. We have not only guidelines in place to carefully use these drugs, we also have third party assessments to go through the farm and determine if antibiotics are going according to guidelines," she said.
Does FDA’s plan go far enough to protect public health? Can the livestock industry be counted on to self-regulate in the public’s interest? Could they afford stricter regulations? How worried should people be about the ongoing use of antibiotics making us more vulnerable to infection?
Avinash Kar, Public Health Staff Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Dr. Liz Wagstrom, Chief Veterinarian, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC)