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Agency Suggests Limits on Antibiotics in Animals Because of Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria

June 28, 2010 -- Giving animals antibiotics in order to increase food production is a threat to public health and should be stopped, the FDA said today.

The federal agency says it has the power to ban the practice, but it's starting by issuing "draft guidance" in hopes the food industry will make voluntary changes. After a 60-day public comment period, the guidance will become FDA policy.

The guidance is based on two principles:

  • Antibiotics should be given to food animals only to protect their health.
  • All animal use of antibiotics should be overseen by veterinarians.

"We are seeing the emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens," FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, MD, said at a news conference. "FDA believes overall weight of evidence supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production purposes is not appropriate."

Sharfstein said it's a public health issue when antibiotics important for human health are given to animals on a massive scale. Such use encourages the growth of drug-resistant bacteria that can cause hard-to-treat human disease.

Like humans, animals sometimes need antibiotics to fight or prevent specific infections. The FDA says it has no problem with this.

But producers regularly give antibiotics to food animals because it makes them gain weight faster or makes them gain more weight from the food they eat. This is the practice the FDA wants to end.

Sharfstein hopes that by offering the carrot of voluntary guidelines, industry will avoid the stick of new regulations.

"We are not expecting people to change tomorrow. This is the first step in FDA establishing principles from which we could move to other steps, such as oversight," Sharfstein said. "This does not tell people what to do, it establishes principles and tells people how to achieve those principles."

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