FDA Issues New “Sweeping Rule” To Reduce Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

Lehigh Valley, PA/CC BY-NC 2.0

The FDA has until recently been unforgivably slow to act on limiting and banning the use of antibiotics in livestock but a new order could change all that. The FDA just enacted a new rule saying that farmers and ranchers will need a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics on farm animals. And even more impressive, the use of antibiotics will no longer be allowed for the growth of animals.

Limiting Antibiotic Use

The FDA hopes that this new rule will help vastly reduce the use of antibiotics and decrease the 99,000 deaths each year from hospital acquired infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Over time, low doses of antibiotics allow for surviving bacteria to form a resistance and while we’re not sure about the connection between resistance in animals and in humans, we do know that 80 percent of antibiotics are used in livestock.

Last month, United States Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York Theodore H. Katz ordered the FDA to withdraw approval of two antibiotics used in animals, according to an Associated Press report.

The FDA issued an order in 1977 to ban non-medical use of penicillin and tetracycline in farm animals but the rule was never enforced because Big Ag pushed back in a huge way. But last month Judge Katz ordered they abide by their own ruling.

"Sweeping Rule"

Laura Rogers of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming called the new rules “the most sweeping action the agency has undertaken in this area.”

But there has been criticism because new labeling rules are voluntary on the part of pharmaceutical companies. Michael Taylor, the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for food, said that making labeling voluntary means avoiding lawsuits with drug companies for over 100 different drugs. This moves the process along and the drug companies do have motivation to abide.

According to The New York Times:

For most drug makers, there are compelling reasons to cooperate. Many of the companies manufacture both animal and human drugs but earn the vast majority of their profits in the human sphere. Any company seen to undermine human health could earn doctors’ disapproval and potentially hurt their most important business.

We'll see how this ruling is taken by farmers and whether they'll start to use more antibiotics for what they claim is sickness rather than growth. But this ruling is certainly a step in the right direction.

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Tags: Animal Welfare | Antibiotics

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