FDA’s Antibiotics Plan Misses the Mark

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Loopholes Allow Industry Misuse of Antibiotics on the Farm to Continue


WASHINGTON (March 26, 2014) – The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) today released a progress report on its voluntary approach to reducing the use of antibiotics in farm animals, which relies on collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry.

About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in cows, chickens, pigs, and other farm animals.  A majority of those antibiotics are fed routinely to animals that are not sick to speed growth and to compensate for crowded and unsanitary conditions. Overuse of antibiotics on farms is widely recognized by scientists to breed antibiotic resistant bacteria that threaten human health.

Natural Resources Defense Council health attorney Avinash Kar made the following statement:

“There is still no evidence that the FDA’s voluntary plan will do anything to limit the increase in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that endanger all of us. Animals will still be fed antibiotics daily even though they aren’t sick. While it’s good to see FDA and corporations coming to the table on this, their solution doesn’t cut it. Fixing the problem means curbing the misuse of these drugs. This plan is likely to lead to label changes, not a reduction in use.

“We don’t add antibiotics to the cereal of kids to prevent diseases in daycare centers, and we shouldn’t be doing this with animals. FDA needs to dramatically reduce antibiotic use in animals. Until that happens, the rest is just window dressing.”

Kar explained that the FDA guidance does nothing to limit the routine use of antibiotics to compensate for crowded conditions. “The FDA is just limiting antibiotic use for growth promotion, but the same animals are given the same antibiotics because of the crowded conditions. Current levels of antibiotic use are likely to continue, but just with a different justification and label. That won’t do anything to protect human health. The bacteria don’t care about the justifications.”

Specific weaknesses in Guidance 213’s implementation plan include:

  • It relies on corporate goodwill to voluntarily eliminate growth promotion uses of antibiotics. Companies that have signed up to participate could still drop out at any point.

  • It fails to address the larger problem of reliance on these drugs to compensate for crowded conditions in lieu of healthier management practices. Antibiotics are often used to compensate for crowding, poor sanitation and stress, among other factors that increase disease risk.

  • As a result, antibiotic use in the feed of animals could continue unabated. In fact, several of the drug companies participating in FDA’s program have said they don’t expect the guidance to affect their revenues.


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