USDA says Vilsack comments don't signal shift on antibiotics

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Vilsack's choice of terms, public health advocates said, refer to situations when antibiotics are used to treat animals that are already sick.

"We agree with Secretary Vilsack that industrial farms should use antibiotics only for disease treatment and control — that is, when animals or herds are sick — and not for growth promotion and routine addition to feed to compensate for overcrowded or unsanitary conditions," said Erik Olson, director of food programs for the Pew Health Group.

Olson added that he was "disappointed" by how long it is taking for the Food and Drug Administration to issue final guidance on voluntary restrictions on antibiotic use.

"We are disappointed, however, that FDA has failed to fulfill its promise to act on the clear scientific evidence and curb antibiotic overuse," he said. "The time to act is long overdue."

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has been leading the charge in Congress to restrict the use of several antibiotics to only treat sick animals.

Vilsack made the comments while unveiling a new report detailing the Obama administration's food safety efforts. These include "stricter standards to prevent contamination of food with dangerous bacteria, stronger surveillance to detect contamination problems earlier, and more rapid response to illness outbreaks," according to a blog post from Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Update: This story was updated at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. with comment from the USDA

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