The Food and Drug Administration took steps Wednesday to try to phase out the use of certain antibiotics in livestock and ensure that drugs given to animals on factory farms are prescribed by veterinarians to prevent and treat diseases, rather than merely to boost growth.
The agency finalized recommendations asking animal drug manufacturers to voluntarily alter their labels so that farmers would no longer be allowed to use antibiotics merely to make animals grow faster. In addition, the agency wants to curb over-the-counter sales of antibiotics and require farmers to get approval from a veterinarian before administering the drugs to livestock.
There’s a long study on the problem by Pew here, but this really comes down to a fairly simple issue: antibiotic use on farms is one of the main reasons antibiotic resistant bacteria are on the upswing. And if you want to see the power of lobbying in action, here’s the beginning of the timeline of this issue:
- 1969: The UK government’s “Swann Report,” formally the Joint Committee on the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine (headed by Dr. M. M. Swann), proposes that rising rates of multi-drug resistant bacteria are due to agricultural use.
- 1970: The FDA becomes concerned about the human health effects of subtherapeutic use of the drugs in animals, and convenes a task force, which concludes the drugs’ use fosters the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- 1973: On the basis of the task force’s findings, the FDA proposes to withdraw its 1951 and 1954 approvals, unless industry can prove they are safe.
- 1976: In the first influential US research, Tufts University researchers establish an experimental farm, give tetracycline-laced feed to chickens on it, and recover tetracycline-resistant bacteria from the farm workers.
- 1977: The FDA issues the “notices of opportunity for a hearing” that were withdrawn Thursday.
- 1978: The House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations orders the FDA to put a hold on its actions and conduct more research. The FDA asks the National Academy of Sciences to perform the research.
The industry almost got this eliminated back in 2011, but the FDA is back for another try. Good for the, but I’ll believe it when I see it–the right to eat cheap meat has long been more important than the welfare of the farm animals or human health concerns.