FDA Plan For Livestock Antibiotics Phase-Out Is Too Little, Too Late

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The federal Food and Drug Administration’s call for the livestock industry to voluntarily stop dosing healthy animals with antibiotics is “is long overdue and inadequate”, Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, said today.  

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are omnipresent in much of the U.S. meat supply,” White said.  “We need a bold and aggressive plan to address this public health problem.  Instead, the FDA has developed a weak proposal riddled with loopholes that could allow industry to continue its widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.”

White made these points:

  • The FDA’s voluntary measure may not cause a significant decrease in the unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals produced for meat.   Industrial livestock producers can ignore it.
  • Industrial livestock producers could change the technical characterization of their antibiotics usage from “growth promotion” to "disease prevention."  Such semantics could mislead the public into believing that livestock producers and pharmaceutical companies are making a contribution to the effort to prevent the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, when in fact, they are engaging in business as usual. 

However, White said the FDA plan has one positive feature:  it would call for veterinary supervision of antibiotics administered to all livestock.

Last April, EWG issued a study called Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets, which documented the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in most ground beef, ground turkey and pork sold in American supermarkets.

This report analyzed tests conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, a joint project of the federal Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Agriculture, that found supermarket meat samples collected in 2011 harbored significant amounts of the superbug versions of salmonella and Campylobacter.

Not surprisingly, superbugs spawned by antibiotic misuse -- and now pervasive in the meat Americans buy -- have become a direct source of foodborne illness   Even more ominously, antibiotic misuse threatens to make important antibiotics ineffective in treating human disease.  Today, the chances are increasing that a person can suffer serious illness, complications or death because of a bacterial infection that doctors must struggle to control.

“While we believe any action is better than nothing, the FDA’s tepid response to this public health crisis is a missed opportunity to keep the American public safe,” White said.