Mandate antibiotic ban

The FDA on Wednesday offered another toothless plan in its slow-motion effort to phase out the rote use of certain antibiotics in livestock feed. The agency hopes to curb the overuse of antibiotics for nonmedical reasons in the country’s food production. But by making the plan voluntary, little is likely to change.

“It is important to use these drugs only when medically necessary,” the FDA said on its website. “Governments around the world consider antimicrobial-resistant bacteria a major threat to public health.”

Why treat a major threat to public health with voluntary recommendations?

If it’s important to only use theses drugs when medically necessary, why can they still be used as a “preventive protectant” and to aid growth of farm animals?

Currently, up to 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are given to healthy animals, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit think tank. About 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold in 2011 for meat and poultry production, compared with the 7.7 million pounds sold for human use.

An FDA report released in April showed that 81 percent of all the raw ground turkey the agency tested was contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, CNN reported. And turkey wasn’t the only problem — antibiotic-resistant bacteria were found in about 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef and 39 percent of chicken.

Scientists say the plan won’t tackle the problem.

“Whether you call it growth promotion or disease prevention, this makes antibiotics less effective for treating sick people,” said Keeve Nachman, a scientist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences and Health Policy and Management.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a microbiologist, said the plan is an “inadequate” because the FDA has no mechanism to enforce it, according to news reports. Her own legislation, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, would have made a ban on antibiotic use in healthy animals mandatory, but industry lobbied heavily against it and it failed.

“Sadly, this guidance is the biggest step the FDA has taken in a generation to combat the overuse of antibiotics in corporate agriculture, and it falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis,” Slaughter said in a statement.

The public can comment on the rule starting today. To comment online, go to www.regulations.gov and insert docket FDA-2010-N-0155. Send written comments to the Division of Dockets Management, Food and Drug Administration, Room 1061, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20852. The FDA will accept comments for 90 days.

Urge the FDA, for the sake of public health, to mandate this policy.

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