FDA Starts Process to Cut Back Antibiotic Overuse in Livestock

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is implementing plans to help phase out the use of antibiotics, medically important to fighting disease in humans, for enhancing growth or to improve feed efficiency in food-producing animals. In final guidance, FDA outlines a voluntary, phased-in approach to remove their routine use for industrial production practices. This announcement comes on the heels of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released this year that pointed out, “Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals are unnecessary.”

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) encourages FDA’s long-term efforts but reminds the public a clear choice to avoid antibiotics in animal agriculture exists now.

“Because the use of antibiotics in animal rearing is strictly prohibited in organic production, organic is the gold standard for consumers, today, concerned about their overuse and wishing to avoid exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria linked to such use,” says Laura Batcha, OTA’s executive vice president. She adds, “Instead, organic producers provide living conditions and health care practices that help prevent illness and promote health of the animals—so just look for the USDA organic seal when shopping.”

Statistics released by FDA show that animal production uses over 29 million pounds of antibiotics annually. “If everyone chose just one organic product out of every 10 they purchased, we could eliminate over 2.5 million pounds of unnecessary antibiotic use each year. That could go a long way in reducing the development of antibiotic resistance,” says Jessica Shade, Ph.D., director of science programs for The Organic Center.

In addition to prohibiting the use of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones in organic livestock production, U.S. national organic standards require organic livestock to be fed 100% organic feed and given access to pasture and the outdoors. The standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, toxic and persistent pesticides and herbicides, synthetic fertilizer and sewage sludge on fields. Organic operations are federally regulated, with third-party certification by a U.S. Department of Agriculture-accredited certifier.

“By choosing meat and dairy products bearing the organic label, consumers can avoid contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says Shade. Noting that studies have found fewer antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria on organic foods such as organic chickens and pork, she adds, “If you’re worried about dietary exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, choosing organic is an easy and wise choice.”

FDA’s press release about its latest actions on antibiotic use in livestock also links to information sheets for consumers, frequently asked questions and final guidance for industry.

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