FDA recommends new limits on antibiotic use in animal agriculture

The Food and Drug Administration is recommending that farmers stop using antibiotics to produce more and bigger poultry and livestock after concluding that the practice has contributed to an increase in drug resistance that "poses a serious public health threat."

The draft guidance — recommendations that do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities — suggests limiting the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals only when needed to assure the animals' health. It also calls for phasing in veterinary oversight or consultation in the use of these drugs.

The agency is accepting comments from industry and consumers for 60 days. 

House Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation to restrict the practice, said the FDA needs to go further.

"I am glad that the FDA is acknowledging the devastating public health implications of antibiotic overuse in agriculture, and plans to take action to reduce this usage," she said in a statement released shortly after the guidance was released. "The FDA has proposed good steps, but they have not gone far enough or moved fast enough. We cannot wait any longer. Scientists and public health experts have known for many years that these drugs were being overused by farmers. Testimony in my committee a year ago revealed that the only thing accomplished by pumping antibiotics into healthy animals is to dilute the effectiveness of our medicines."

Slaughter's "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act" would phase out the non-therapeutic use of specific classes of antibiotics in food-producing animals, while permitting their continued therapeutic use in sick animals. The bill was introduced in March 2009 and has 113 co-sponsors, but lingers in the Energy and Commerce Committee.