FDA antibiotic regulations under the microscope

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The FDA has just rejected two petitions to ban a long list of antibiotics used in food animal production. The petitions, which date from 1995 and 2005, were filed by a number of consumer and sustainable agriculture advocates who are concerned that the use of these antibiotics in livestock to promote growth and prevent disease contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, the FDA announced that the number of statutory steps required to revoke the current approvals and institute the requested bans would strain the time and resources of the agency.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross has to question the FDA s explanation for their dismissal of the petitions. Where s the scientific rationale? he asks. To dismiss these petitions on the basis of bureaucratic obstacles would seem to privilege the agency s own convenience over any kind of objective examination of the issue at hand.

And indeed, the FDA s dismissal of the petitions becomes even more puzzling when one takes a look at the list of antibiotics that would have been withdrawn from use in food animal production: Among them are penicillins, tetracyclines, aminoglycosides, streptogramins, macrolides, lincomycin, and sulfonamides.

The dangerous hospital-acquired infections, like MRSA and C-Diff, that are antibiotic resistant, have nothing to do with the drugs on this list, says Dr. Ross. However, the drugs being given as growth promoters to animals are in regular clinical use. It does give one pause.

Acknowledging how commonly the drugs in question are used in humans, ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom notes his concern about the possibility of their livestock use contributing to the resistant bacteria problem. Even the use of a common antibiotic like penicillin may promote the growth of staph with methicillin-resistance (MRSA), he points out. Resistance to any single antibiotic is typically associated with resistance to other members of the same class of drugs.

For now, though, the antibiotics will continue to be used in farm animals, and the FDA reports that it is pursuing other alternatives to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance related to the production use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture.