The FDA is Working to Restrict Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals

Packaged meat (via Flickr)
Packaged meat (via Flickr)

Big news in the food industry: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock. What does this mean for us? Hopefully healthier and longer lives.

“Because all uses of antimicrobial drugs, in both humans and animals, contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance, it is important to use these drugs only when medically necessary. Governments around the world consider antimicrobial-resistant bacteria a major threat to public health. Illnesses caused by drug-resistant strains of bacteria are more likely to be potentially fatal when the medicines used to treat them are rendered less effective,” says the FDA.

In April 2013, CNN reported that the FDA discovered 81% of all raw ground turkey tested had antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (Makes you think twice about buying ground turkey from Kroger, doesn’t it?)

For more information on the plan, see what the FDA has to say about it:

Drugs Primarily in Feed

Flynn explains that all the drugs affected by this plan are antibacterial products. They have long been FDA-approved for production (e.g. growth enhancement) purposes as well as for the treatment, control or prevention of animal diseases. Even today, he says, it is not entirely understood how these drugs make animals grow faster. The drugs are primarily added to feed, although they are sometimes added to the animals’ drinking water.

Bacteria evolve to survive threats to their existence. In both humans and animals, even appropriate therapeutic uses of antibiotics can promote the development of drug resistant bacteria. When such bacteria enter the food supply, they can be transferred to the people who eat food from the treated animal.

In 2010, FDA called for a strategy to phase out production use of medically important antimicrobial products and to bring the remaining therapeutic uses under the oversight of a veterinarian. The guidance document that FDA is issuing on Dec. 11, 2013, which was previously issued in draft form in 2012, lays out such a strategy and marks the beginning of the formal implementation period.

The agency is asking animal pharmaceutical companies to notify FDA within the next three months of their intent to voluntarily make the changes recommended in the guidance. Based on timeframes set out in the guidance, these companies would then have three years to fully implement these changes.

To help veterinarians and producers of food-producing animals comply with the new terms of use for these products once the recommended changes are implemented, FDA is proposing changes to the Veterinary Feed Directives (VFD) process. This is an existing system that governs the distribution and use of certain drugs (VFD drugs) that can only be used in animal feed with the specific authorization of a licensed veterinarian. Flynn explains that feed-use antibiotics that are considered medically important and are currently available as OTC products will, as a result of implementation of the guidance document, come under the VFD process.

The proposed changes to the VFD process are intended to clarify the administrative requirements for the distribution and use of VFD drugs and improve the efficiency of the VFD program. Such updates to the VFD process will assist in the transition of OTC products to their new VFD status.

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Why Voluntary?

Flynn explains that the final guidance document made participation voluntary because it is the fastest, most efficient way to make these changes. FDA has been working with associations that include those representing drug companies, the feed industry, producers of beef, pork and turkey, as well as veterinarians and consumer groups.

“Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort,” says Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.