Legislation to limit antibiotic use ‘on hold' for now

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2012 -The leading House critic of non-therapeutic antibiotic use in cattle, hogs and chickens said the GOP majority won't schedule a hearing this year on her legislation to limit their use to sick animals.

“We still don't have enough sponsors,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) said. “We don't expect to have a hearing this year . . . but we will not give up.” PAMTA has attracted 78 co-sponsors so far. A companion bill introduced in the Senate by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein has only seven co-signers.

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According to the Food and Drug Administration, almost 80% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. end up in food-producing animals, where most are fed to healthy animals to promote faster growth. At a briefing on Capitol Hill, Slaughter introduced a panel of scientists to discuss research linking antibiotic use in animal agriculture to the development of resistant bacteria and infections in humans.

Representatives of the Animal Health Institute (AHI), which represents the animal drug industry, attended the briefing and told Agri-Pulse afterwards they heard nothing “new.” The briefing, hosted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, followed the release earlier this month of a joint FDA-CDC report showing that much of the salmonella detected during government tests on chicken, turkey and pork in 2010 was resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics given to people.

About 43% of the salmonella found in chicken breasts tested positive for resistance to three or more antibiotics, 34% in ground turkey and 50% in pork chops, according to the report. One strain of the bacteria was resistant to all eight classes of antimicrobials tested.

“The industrialization of agriculture has created new threats for the environment and has distorted the quality of the food of that we eat and therefore a profound impact on the health of the public,” said Robert Lawrence, a professor of environmental health services at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And nowhere is that impact greater or more threatening than in the selecting out of resistant bacteria by the misuse of antibiotics as growth promoters in food-animal production.”

Tara Smith, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa, said that confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) provide an environment for resistant-organisms to develop and spread.

“The animals are in close contact to each other, they're living with their manure and fecal material and so if antibiotic resistance is generated in one animal it can easily spread to the rest of the herd,” Smith said.

With funding from the National Pork Board, Smith studied 18 hog operations in Iowa in between 2008 and 2010 - half were CAFOs and the other half were antibiotic-free farms - and found Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in pigs in four of the nine CAFOs. MRSA was not detected in animals raised on the antibiotic-free operations, she said. Similar research was conducted at hog farms in Minnesota and Ohio. Full results of the three-state study are due out later this year. Smith and other researchers on the panel urged FDA to prohibit the routine use of antibiotics in livestock.

The scientists overlooked several important developments, Ron Phillips, AHI's vice president for legislative and public affairs, said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.

“The fact of the matter is FDA set out a policy two years ago phase out sub-therapeutic use and will be coming out with additional guidance and regulations yet this year,” Phillips said. “We are on a glide path where sub-therapeutic use is being eliminated and, at the same time, there's going to be veterinary oversight of all these important antibiotics.”



Original story printed in March 14, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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