The FDA announced last week that it would close hearings on the potential risks of “subtherapeutic” antibiotic use in food animals. This announcement means the FDA will no longer pursue the withdrawal of the antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline from use in animal feed. Though some object to the policy change, FDA announcement actually comes at the recommendation of several leading animal scientists.
In the U.S., many livestock producers give their animals low-levels of antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth. Some argue that this practice has led to increased antibiotic-resistant human diseases. When the FDA opened hearings on the issue in 1977, scientists lacked information on whether giving livestock antibiotics for “growth promotion” could lead to antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in humans. Since then, animal scientists have shown that antibiotics can be used safely to promote growth and health in livestock.
According to the FDA notice, published in the Federal Register, “FDA’s thinking on this issue has evolved over the last three decades, and FDA now generally considers disease control and prevention claims to be judicious uses (in other words, therapeutic uses), especially when the drug is administered at the direction and under the oversight of a licensed veterinarian.”
This statement reflects the conclusions of many animal scientists working in animal agriculture and clinical research. In November 2011, after a scientific symposium on antibiotic use in animals, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) concluded that “estimated farm‐to‐fork risk from on‐farm antibiotic use is extremely low.”
Dr. Rodney Preston, a retired animal scientist and member of the Federation of Animal Science Societies’ Committee on Food Safety, agreed with the NIAA conclusion. Preston said risk of antibiotic use in animals leading to antibiotic-resistant human diseases is “minimal.”
Dr. Scott Hurd, former USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety and associate professor in veterinary diagnostics and production animal medicine at Iowa State University, called the FDA announcement “a good plan.” Hurd gave his opinion on the part of the FDA announcement calling for the livestock industry to begin “voluntary reforms.”
“What they’re really asking is for the pharmaceutical companies to remove the ‘growth promotant’ labels on their products,” said Hurd.