The FDA is urging farmers to stop giving antibiotics to livestock. These antibiotics increase animal growth and is creating dangerous bacteria that does not respond to medical treatment endangering human life.
Joshua M. Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner, stated that antibiotics should be used only to protect the health of an animal and not to help it grow or improve the way it digests its food.
"This is an urgent public health issue," Sharfstein said during a conference call with reporters. "To preserve the effectiveness [of antibiotics], we simply must use them as judiciously as possible."
U.S. farmers give antibiotics on a regular basis to food-producing animals to treat illnesses, prevent infection and encourage growth. The drugs are often added to drinking water and feed. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States are given to animals. "We have the regulatory mechanisms, and industry knows that," he said. "We also think things can be done voluntarily. We're not handcuffed to the steering wheel of a particular strategy, but I'm not ruling out anything that we can do to establish these important public-health goals."
The recommendation to cut back on the use of antimicrobial drugs comes amid rising concern that extensive use in animals contributes to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria afflicting humans. It is estimated that 100,000 people die every year from hospital-acquired infections caused by bacteria that, because of overuse of antibiotics, have developed resistance to the usual remedies and cannot be killed with them. Many others die from superbugs contracted outside hospitals.
The question is how many deaths can be attributed to agricultural uses of antibiotics? “I don’t think anyone knows that number,” said Dr. James Johnson, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, “but I think it’s substantial.”
The draft guidance, published on the agency's website, also says that antibiotic use in animals should require veterinarian oversight. The public and industry will have 60 days to comment, and the FDA will then use those comments to consider its next move, Sharfstein says. "We're seeking guidance on how to achieve those principles."
House Rules Committee chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-New York, said in a statement that "the only thing accomplished by pumping antibiotics into healthy animals is to dilute the effectiveness of our medicines."