FDA moves on ag antibiotic use supported by drug industry, criticized by pork producers and food safety watchdog

By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2012 - Farmers and ranchers will have to get a prescription from a veterinarian in order to use antibiotics in cattle, hogs and chickens under final regulatory guidance issued by the Food and Drug Administration that also prohibits medically-important drugs from being used to promote animal growth.

FDA said the actions were necessary to preserve the effectiveness of antimicrobial medicines used to treat disease in humans.

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“It is critical that we take action to protect public health,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.  “The new strategy will ensure farmers and veterinarians can care for animals while ensuring the medicines people need remain safe and effective.”

The Animal Health Institute, which represents drug manufacturers, pledged to work with regulators to implement the policy goals articulated in the guidance documents.

“The veterinarian is critically important in animal care decisions and, ultimately, in protecting food safety and human health,” AHI said.  “We strongly support responsible use of antibiotic medicines and the involvement of a veterinarian whenever antibiotics are administered to food producing animals.”

Nearly two years in the making, implementation of the voluntary strategy means all medically-important antimicrobials used in animal agriculture will be labeled only for therapeutic uses - disease treatment, control and prevention.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y, a leading critic of antibiotic use in livestock and poultry, said FDA's “‘non-binding recommendations' are not a strong enough antidote to the problem” of drug resistance.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the regulatory guidance is “tragically flawed” because it relies “too heavily on the drug industry and animal producers to act voluntarily in the best interest of consumers.

“The time for half measures and voluntary steps has passed,” CSPI said.

The National Pork Producers Council called FDA's new approach “problematic,” saying it likely will disproportionately affect small producers, have a negative effect on animal health and increase the cost of producing food while not improving public health.

Hamburg said her agency was reaching out to producers who operate on a smaller scale or in remote locations to “help ensure the drugs they need to protect the health of their animals are still available.”

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