WASHINGTON, June 3, 2015 – Stakeholders from food groups, the healthcare industry, the military and agriculture gathered Tuesday for a White House forum on fighting antibiotic resistance, which the Obama administration said poses a threat to national security.
The event was held in conjunction with pledges from the private sector as well as the administration to become more judicious with antibiotic use to prevent further development of bacteria resistant to traditional antibiotics. Companies like Tyson Foods and McDonald’s, two of many businesses to take the step, had already announced changes in their antibiotic policies. For its part, the White House issued a memo calling for meat and poultry produced “according to responsible antibiotic-use policies” to be available in certain federal cafeterias.The White House also released a fact sheet listing 133 agriculture and health companies and organizations “that have committed to help thwart the public health and national security threat posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria.” The list includes the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council, and the North American Meat Institute.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion at the event, Donnie Smith, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, said there was “absolutely a business case” for reducing antibiotic use as well as the social responsibility of keeping antibiotics available and effective for future generations. He said that seeking biological and medical alternatives for antibiotics would be helpful to address animal health concerns, and that the government could play a role in this discussion by sponsoring and supporting research for those alternatives. Smith also pointed out “the things that we can do to reduce (consumer) concern are good for all of our businesses.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was glad to see President Obama take a personal interest in this issue, adding that more work is yet to be done to fully handle the problem.
“This is a complicated problem, and it’s one that we have spent the last 20 years working on at USDA, and the reality is we obviously have a significant amount of more work to do,” Vilsack said. He noted that last year, USDA spent over $19 million in research to fight antibiotic resistance, and Obama’s budget calls for $56 million. “We are hopeful that Congress understands and begins to appreciate the seriousness of this issue.”
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said she hopes Tuesday’s forum would be “an important and hopefully historic first step” to keep antibiotics effective. In remarks to attendees, she warned that if action isn’t taken to address the potential overuse of antibiotics medically important to humans in food animal production, the current problems caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria could only get worse.
“We’re not entering the post-antibiotic world, we’re actually in it,” Burwell said, noting that she recently lost her uncle to complications from MRSA, a form of bacterial infection resistant to many antibiotics.
Groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the White House for promoting the purchasing of meat raised with responsible antibiotic use in mind, but called on the administration to go further and ban the use of antibiotics deemed medically important to humans in livestock production.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration also announced the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) final rule, which the agency said is an important piece of the strategy “to promote the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals.” The rule details the process for using VFD drugs, which are drugs “intended for use in or on animal feed” and require the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. It also includes guidance for the use of antimicrobials in feed “when needed for specific animal health purposes.”
Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, said the rule “allows for the flexibility needed to accommodate the diversity of circumstances that veterinarians encounter, while ensuring such oversight is conducted in accordance with nationally consistent principles.”
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