Antibiotic use in food-producing animals has been an on-again, off-again topic of debate. Well, it appears the debate is back on. Certainly the topic is generating more attention recently.

A U.S. Center for Disease Control study more or less kicked off the controversy with the new year. The study contends that overuse of antibiotics in food animals is creating Salmonella infections that won’t respond to certain antibiotics. According to CDC, the number of affected patients is small, but growing. Researchers found that 0.5 percent of human Salmonella infections were resistant to Rocephin in 1998, up from 0.1 percent in 1996. They have found evidence, although admittedly incomplete, that some of those Salmonella strains are resistant to a specific livestock antibiotic as well. “To mitigate potential rapid dissemination, there is a need to control the development of drug resistance in humans and animals by reducing the misuse and overuse of drugs,” researchers contend. That’s true for both animals and humans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration intends to propose a major overhaul of the way antibiotics are used in food-producing animals. Officials from FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine announced proposed regulations during a public meeting last week.

The rules would suspend the use of any antibiotics within food-producing animals that are found to promote the spread of human-resistant pathogens. Although there are few documented cases of resistant microbes, CVM officials say the link between farm use of these drugs and some human diseases is indisputable.

FDA officials indicate the overhauled plan would propose a regulatory framework that creates a resistance threshold and a monitoring threshold for all new drugs developed for use in the livestock and poultry industries. The new rules also could apply to drugs already in use. CVM officials say the proposed rules may require congressional approval. The process could take at least a year. You can find more information about the proposed rules at www.fda.gov/cvm.

Meanwhile, the pressure against antibiotic use in food-producing animals is building overseas. German Consumer Minister Renate Kuenast called for a general ban on antibiotics used in swine, saying she would push for a ban on the four specific ones now enforced in the European Union. Those drugs are salinomycin-natrium, monesin-natrium, avelamycin and flavophospholipol. Originally, those drugs were used in animals and humans.

The German ban comes on the heels of a case accusing 19 farmers of giving drugs to pigs illegally. EU bans the use of hormones in feed and carefully prescribes when and which antibiotics can be used.

The EU has been the most critical of antibiotic usage in food-producing animals, with support from the EU Scientific Steering Committee and the World Health Organization the issue is alive and well. Antibiotics, along with animal welfare, could increasingly become an export issue.

In defense, Animal Health Institute officials point to a survey, showing that 85 percent of antibiotics are used in livestock and poultry for disease prevention. Only 15 percent are used for subtherapeutic uses, such as growth promotion. “The industry is working hard to make sure that antibiotics are used judiciously, safely and effectively,” says Carole Throssell DuBois, AHI vice president of public affairs.

Whether the increased attention to antibiotics triggers concern, frustration or anger in you, the fact is you need to be aware of it. There is growing pressure on the use of antibiotics in food-animal production, and it’s likely the upcoming battle will result in some losses.