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F.D.A. Restricts Antibiotics' Use for Livestock

Posted Dec 12 2013 11:50am
For 60 years, US factory farms have included broad-spectrum antibiotics in the feed for livestock. It is said to promote growth. It also promotes antibiotic resistance.   Fully 80% (30 million pounds) of the antibiotics used in the US are fed to animals who provide our meat and dairy products. In 1977, FDA announced it planned to withdraw approval for some antibiotic use in animal feed.  It never did, till last year.

Cheap production methods introduce bacterial contamination to meat.  See this Bloomberg report on pork production, and the effects of FDA's reduced inspections.

Back in 2010, FDA asked farmers to reduce antibiotic use routinely in animal feed. The practice was banned in the European Union in 2006. But the practice continued, in the absence of an outright ban.

Last year, after a 2005 ban on antibiotic fluoroquinolones failed to stop their use , FDA banned the use of fluroquinolones in animal feed, as antibiotics resistance develops rapidly to this class of drugs.

Last April, the Environmental Working Group issued a report, Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets , which FDA rapidly rebutted.   (It seems the PR folks can always get out a quick rebuttal to anything.) But now FDA has made an about-face.

In a surprise decision, FDA has taken the bold step of telling farmers to phase out the use of all indiscriminate antibiotics (those used to promote growth, not those used to treat specific infections) by 2017 .  Farmers will need a prescription from a veterinarian to give animals antibiotics.  The change is being effected by changing the labels on the antibiotics:  their use to promote growth in livestock will no longer be FDA-approved.

Some claim farmers will be able to use the drugs for "disease prevention." How FDA enforces this change will determine its scope.

Kudos to FDA for the very important decision.  Let's hope this time it sticks. Banning antibiotics in feed may increase the price of food a little. But the quality of the US food supply, especially its factory-farmed meat, is currently so poor, that efforts to turn around the degradation of the food supply, and begin improving the quality of our foodstuffs are really important.  Hopefully, FDA will next ban the use of arsenic and prozac in chickens , as well.
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