WASHINGTON, D.C. — 34 years after issuing a warning about overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, the FDA has finally decided to take its own advice. As a result, the agency issued an order prohibiting certain uses of the cephalosporin class of antibiotics in farm animals, including cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys. The new rules are in effect as of April 5, 2012, according to an announcement from the FDA.
For decades, the meat industry has made a regular practice of using antibiotics like cephalosporins without good reason except to accelerate animal growth by killing internal bacteria. 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animal feed simply to boost animal growth and profits. The danger to the public from this practice has become more and more obvious in recent years.
Today’s bacteria mutate so quickly and are so resistant to antibiotics that infectious disease specialist say the average patient’s treatment is the medical equivalent of whack-a-mole: trying to treat patients in that tiny window of time after a drug is developed but before the microbes have had a chance to mutate to be resistant to the new drugs. Overuse of antibiotics in animals raised for consumption speeds the closure of this window.
The FDA ruled in 1977 that using penicillins, tetracyclines and other antibiotics in farm animals to induce them to grow faster was unsafe. Agency-commissioned research had drawn a definitive link between needless use of antibiotics and the creation of antibiotic-resistant bugs. The agency then began to take steps to withdraw its approval for the use of antibiotics in animal feed simply to stimulate growth. It did so by initiating comments periods during which it offered “notices of opportunity for a hearing.”
The agency’s “comments” period lasted from 1977 until 2012. During this 34-year-period, the FDA was under pressure from Congress – bolstered by campaign money from pharmaceutical and agricultural interests – to take no action. It wasn’t until a federal judge ruled against the FDA in March of this year that the agency picked up where it has left off in 1977 to enforce a ban on certain agricultural uses of popular antibiotics.
Cephalosporins, the class of antibiotics that have finally been prohibited for “extra-label” uses in farm animals, are widely used in humans for the treatment of pneumonia, skin and soft tissue infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, foot infections in diabetics, and urinary tract infections. If cephalosporins fail to knock out these infections, doctors must move on to other classes of antibiotics, many of which are less effective and have more unpleasant side effects.
Under the new FDA rules finally put in place, pharmaceutical companies may no longer sell, and farmers may no longer administer, cephalosporin drugs at unapproved dose levels, frequencies, durations or routes of administration. It is also prohibited to use cephalosporins drugs in cattle, swine, chickens or turkeys that are not approved for use in that particular animal (farms using drugs intended for dogs and cats in cows, for example). Finally, cephalosporin may be used only for disease treatment, not for disease prevention.
Researchers say the agency’s long-delayed action on cephalosporin is a good first step. But a first step is all it is. “The ban of cephalosporin is probably a good start in my opinion, but it’s not nearly as far as we need to go,” Murray Borrello, director of the environmental studies program at Alma College in Michigan, told the Great Lakes Echo.
Borrello has been studying the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on large industrial farms in Michigan. What he found was that these farms today are breeding grounds for bacteria resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline, that they literally float in the air around these farms. The new FDA ruling, however, fails to cover tetracycline, which is far more widely used in animal feed than cephalosporin. As a result, Borrello says, the FDA’s action is likely to make only the smallest of dents in farms breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
© 2012 Off the Grid News