The very touchy issue of whether antibiotic use in livestock (they act as growth promoters) should be banned has come up once again in today s Wall Street Journal. Although research and development in the antibiotic field has come back to life, thanks in no small part to ACSH advisor Dr. David Shlaes, it is not nearly enough to make up for the twenty-year hole in the pipeline caused mainly by a terrible policy change at the FDA.
Most people are aware of the problem of antibiotic resistance, although very few know how bad it is, and that it could get worse.
Dr. Shlaes blog, Antibiotics The Perfect Storm, is the place to go if you want to know about the guts of the the entire issue.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, a former colleague of Shlaes at Wyeth, has also written extensively about this multifaceted issue, including a 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed supporting the subsidizing of GlaxoSmithKline's antibiotic clinical trials by Health and Human Services an unprecedented move.
Multifaceted is indeed the appropriate term here. New drugs are desperately needed, however, the war against bacterial resistance must be fought on many fronts, better hygienic procedures in hospitals, and improper use of existing antibiotics, both of which are significant contributors to the resistance problem.
The best examples of improper use are using antibiotics to treat viral diseases (they don t work) and the use of the drugs with livestock.
Today's story focuses on the fight by Joe Sanderson, the CEO of the giant Sanderson Farms, against limiting antibiotic use in his chickens. Sanderson said, There s no reliable science that says by using these [government] approved antibiotics, that there is going to be any resistance.
We beg to differ.
Dr. Shlaes says, I think the science showing the link between the use of medically important antibiotics in animals, including poultry, and human infections caused by resistant organisms is solid and not questionable.
Sanders argues, We have a duty to take care of the animals.
To which Dr. Shlaes replies, The argument that he has to use medically important antibiotics to prevent illness in his chickens is flawed since vaccines, probiotics and less crowded conditions have already done much to reduce infections in poultry flocks. Sanderson is living on some other planet.
Shlaes is not alone. Susan Vaughn Grooters, a policy analyst for health and animal-welfare advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working, says, Sanderson s position on antibiotics ignores the fundamental principle that antibiotic use breeds resistant bacteria, a fact [that] is recognized by every major medical authority.
Part of this debate is whether using drugs in animal feed that are not used in humans promotes resistance in drugs that are. Shlaes says yes. And he backs it up: The incidence of vancomycin-resistant enterococci infection in Europe dropped dramatically when avoparcin a drug that is similar, but chemically distinct from vancomycin was banned from use in animals as a growth promotant.
Dr. Bloom adds, There is an important distinction between the therapeutic use of antibiotics to treat sick animals, and the inclusion of the drugs in livestock feed as growth promoters. The first is perfectly reasonable, while the second, although it does what it is intended to do, is not.
Shlaes concludes that the process of elimination of antibiotics as growth promotants is already underway: The FDA just needs to do its job.