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I was in Washington DC last week when the FDA announced that it was taking significant steps to address antibiotic resistance, a problem caused by overuse in raising animals for food.
The FDA called on makers of animal antibiotics to:
Voluntary is, of course, a red flag and the Washington Post quoted critics saying that the new guidance falls far short of what really is needed—a flat-out ban on use of antibiotics as growth promoters.
Yes, the loopholes are real, but I view the FDA’s guidance as a major big deal. The agency is explicitly taking on the antibiotic problem. It is sending a clear signal to industrial farm animal producers that sooner or later they will have to:
I think the FDA is dead serious about the antibiotic problem. If the FDA seems to be doing this in some convoluted fashion, I’m guessing it’s because it has to. The FDA must not have been able to find any other politically viable way to get at the antibiotics problem.
I see this as a first step on the road to banning antibiotics for any use in animals other than the occasional treatment of specific illnesses.
This is the agency’s first serious attempt in decades to curb what experts have long regarded as the systematic overuse of antibiotics in healthy farm animals, with the drugs typically added directly into their feed and water. The waning effectiveness of antibiotics — wonder drugs of the 20th century — has become a looming threat to public health. At least two million Americans fall sick every year and about 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections.
Still not convinced antibiotics are worth banning for promoting growth?
The best explanation is the Washington Post’s handy guide to the antibiotic-perplexed. Here, for example, is its timeline of development of microbial resistance to antibiotics. The bottom line: the more widespread the use of antibiotics, the greater the onset and prevalence of resistance. And it takes practically no time for bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotic drugs.
Resources from FDA