FDA wants meat producers to stop using antibiotic­s

- By Elizabeth Weise

Government fears bacteria that can kill people have been growing resistant to drugs.

The government wants meat and poultry producers to stop giving antibiotic­s to their animals to make them grow faster.

The reason: Dangerous bacteria that can kill people have been growing resistant to the drugs, which can leave humans at risk of getting infections that can’t be controlled.

The announceme­nt on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administra­tion, which asks producers to make the change voluntaril­y, comes two years after the agency declared that using antibiotic­s in foodproduc­ing animals “is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.”

“This is a sea change,” says Michael Taylor, the FDA’S deputy commission­er for foods. “We’re finally ready to put this issue behind us.”

Skeptics fear the animal pharmaceut­ical industry will make only cosmetic changes and the meat producers will continue using feed with antibiotic­s.

“They’ll just stop marketing drugs as growth promoters and instead market them for disease prevention at exactly the same doses and same period of use,” says Steve Roach with the Food Animal Concerns Trust in Chicago.

Antibiotic­s have been added to animal feed and water since the 1960s, when it was found that very low, long-term doses not only kept animals from getting sick but also made them grow faster.

Concerns about bacteria becoming resistant to those antibiotic­s — often the same ones used to treat human disease — began in the 1970s.

The FDA tried to restrict their use in 1977, but Congress opposed the restrictio­ns. The agency, doctors, farmers and activists have been fighting about the issue ever since.

The new guidance asks, but does not require, that companies stop selling antibiotic­s medically important in human disease as growth promoters for animals.

Two commonly used ones would be penicillin and tetracycli­ne, says William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA.

Antibiotic­s could still be given to sick animals, but feed containing antibiotic­s would have to be prescribed by a veterinari­an.

Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco, a large animal pharmaceut­ical company in Greenfield, Ind., agrees with the the FDA’S move. Putting antibiotic use “under the oversight of the veterinari­an is critical,” he says.

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