Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a draft guidance intended to inform the public of FDA’s current thinking on the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals.

Questions about FDA’s guidance immediately arose from the U.S. animal agriculture industry. Upon what science is FDA basing their draft guidance and what does this mean to animal agriculture?

Here is what three experts shared on AgriTalk radio this week.

“There is concern at FDA regarding antibiotic use in livestock,” William Flynn told AgriTalk radio. Flynn is the senior advisor for science policy at the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. “The broader public concern is about antimicrobial resistance, in general terms drugs becoming less effective because bacteria become resistant to them.” Flynn said that antibiotic resistance arises from all uses of antibiotics, including use in humans as well as animal agriculture.

Flynn says the FDA is not looking at this from a perspective of moving to ban antibiotics or stop the use of antibiotics altogether. The FDA is trying to look at how antibiotics are used and trying to make sure antibiotics are used judiciously. “We believe if we can limit how antibiotics are used it will slow down the process by which resistance emerges,” note Flynn.

A key element of this document is that it is going out as a draft and the FDA is very interested in receiving input from all stakeholders, in particular from producers and veterinarians, who rely on these antibiotics, says Flynn. “This is really the very beginning of the process. The draft guidance is now out there and we are in a 60-day public comment period right now. We’re going to look closely at all the comments we receive.”

When asked if Flynn had any documented proof that the use of antibiotics in livestock had any adverse affects on human health, he responded by saying he believes there is sufficient concern to take some steps to address the issue of antimicrobial drug resistance.

To hear more from Flynn click here

The National Pork Producers Council says more study needs to be done before implementing any changes in antibiotic use in livestock because no studies yet show a link to human antibiotic resistance.

Dave Warner, NPPC director of communications, responded to FDA’s Draft Guidance in an interview with AgriTalk radio. “I know that FDA and others who support this say there is plenty of science, but what they are talking about is that there is plenty of science to say that antibiotic use leads to antibiotic resistance, that’s a fact because bacteria evolve. There is no science that says antibiotic use in livestock leads to antibiotic resistance in humans. We don’t see the science there to take away some very important animal health products.”

“I think FDA is using the precautionary principle ‘we think that it might be a problem, we’re going to do something about it, regardless of whether it does or does not cause a problem’,” says Warner.

If the guidance goes forward as it is now, Warner says there could be some animal health products eliminated. “That’s going to be a problem,” says Warner. He says we’re going to end up with animals that are not as healthy, that may become sick. “Certainly we will have treatment options available. But we have studies that show animals that have been sick during their lifetime have higher incidence of food-borne pathogens than those that haven’t been sick.”

Bottom line: we want all the tools available to keep our animals healthy, because healthy animals produce safe food, says Warner.

Listen to more from Warner

Christine Hoang of the American Veterinary Medical Association says the AVMA will work with FDA on developing guidelines for antibiotic use, but more study needs to be done to determine both effectiveness and risk.

Hear more from Hoang.