FDA to Begin Restricting Use of Antibiotics in Animal Feed

By Eleanor Fausold

On March 22nd, a federal magistrate judge ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to inform drug makers that it may soon ban the use of penicillin and tetracycline, two popular antibiotics, for promotion of growth in animals.

Animals can be raised healthily without dependence on antibiotics. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The order comes as a result of concerns about antibiotics’ effect on public health. According to many microbiologists and other medical researchers, the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture contributes to selection for bacteria that are resistant to common treatments. Outbreaks of illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in number and severity in recent years, and according to Dr. David Wallinga, an expert on antibiotics at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, antibiotic-resistant infections now cause 100,000 deaths in hospitals annually.

Vast amounts of antibiotics are used in factory farms in the United States. Two years ago, the FDA collected data from drug companies about the amount of antibiotics used on conventional food animals. The FDA discovered that this total came to 29 million pounds, or 80 percent of all the antibiotics used in the United States annually. Seventy-four percent of these 29 million pounds of drugs are used in animal feed, not to treat animals that are actually sick. This number dwarfs the 7 million pounds of antibiotics used on humans in the United States annually and is especially concerning given that 60 percent of the drugs used on animals are the same or very similar to those used on humans.

The effect this ruling will have on public health remains to be seen because the order only applies to drugs that are being used to promote growth in animals, but it’s a step in the right direction to help prevent antibiotic resistance among animals and humans alike.

To read the official court ruling, click here.

What do you think about this latest announcement? Tell us below!

For more information on livestock production and antibiotic use, check out Alternatives to Antibiotics in Animals: Looking to Africa for Answers, FDA Bans Off-Label Use of Antibiotics in Farm Animals, Changing the Way We Eat: Raising Pigs & Problems, and Rising Number of Farm Animals Poses Environmental and Public Health Risks.

Eleanor Fausold is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

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