WASHINGTON, April 6. 2016 - White House advisory panel has released its review of the nation’s action plan to combat antibiotic resistance, handing out praise to USDA and producers in some areas, but raising concerns with its call for a boost in on-farm surveillance.
The report, by the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB), is now on its way to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, and ultimately President Barack Obama, with a series of recommendations for federal agencies.
They include embracing the One Health approach – the idea that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interdependent – as well as ramping up interagency cooperation on antibiotic resistance, and incentivizing research on alternatives to antibiotics with government grants.
Agriculture producer groups backed most of the panel’s recommendations – save for how to keep tabs on antibiotic resistance on their farms.
“Pork producers support changes to confront this very serious problem, and we will continue to do our part,” National Pork Producers Council President John Weber said in a release. Indeed, NPPC has made a series of commitments called for in the White House’s National Action Plan on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (NAP, for short) released in March 2015.
NPPC said its pork producers would comply with the Food and Drug Administration’s voluntary Veterinary Feed Directive beginning in 2017. The directive asks farmers and ranchers to administer medically important antibiotics to food-producing animals by water or feed with veterinary oversight. The group also said it would discontinue using antibiotics important to human medicine to promote growth in animals, as the report recommends.
John Johnson, the National Pork Board’s chief operating officer, said the NPB is working on developing new ways to evaluate models and metrics for collecting data on antibiotic use in the U.S. pork industry – a task the PACCARB report said was essential work that could be completed by a coalition of “veterinarians, producers, and their customer supply chains.”
NPB has also invested about $6 million since 2000 in resistance research on behalf of the 62,000 pig farmers it represents.
The National Chicken Council said its farmers have made similar commitments. Ashley Peterson, the group’s senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, told Agri-Pulse that NCC’s member companies “are already eliminating (antibiotic) use for growth promotion and most are moving far in advance of regulatory deadlines for compliance.”
But neither group really got behind one of the panel’s most pressing recommendations to USDA: implementation of on-farm surveillance of antibiotic resistance.
Peterson agreed that the current method of estimating usage on farms – analyzing FDA’s sale records on antibiotics – “is not an informative source of data.” And NPPC praised PACCARB’s request for more USDA funding (in fiscal 2016, no money was allocated) to conduct on-farm antibiotic-resistance surveillance. But neither group gave a clear idea on how to conduct on-farm surveillance, much less said who should be responsible for data collection and storage.
“Collecting on-farm antibiotic data is of critical importance,” the panel said in its report, and “lack of federal funding is hindering on-farm work and constrains implementation of the NAP.” And despite the efforts of USDA, FDA and commodity groups to develop a way to obtain on-farm antibiotic use data, a debate continues over whether industry efforts can, or should, complement government surveillance, PACCARB said.
That debate is fueled by farmer concerns that their data wouldn’t be kept confidential, or would be used against them, the panel concluded.
USDA convened a meeting in September 2015 to discuss antibiotic resistance on farms and the collection of farm antibiotic use data, but no plan of attack came out of the Washington event. PACCARB said USDA would convene another meeting on alternatives to antibiotics in animal production sometime in 2016, and encouraged USDA to continue its education and outreach initiatives regarding antibiotic resistance and its research on antimicrobial residues in water and soil and alternatives to antibiotics.
Spokeswoman Kari Barbic for the American Farm Bureau Federation said AFBF was still reviewing the report, but is opposed to mandated on-farm reporting of antibiotic use.
While the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association did not respond to a request for comment on the report, it has indicated that a voluntary reporting program would be acceptable, so long as USDA could ensure “absolute data security and protection for release of personal information.” The National Farmers Union said it had no comment on the council’s recommendations.
Meanwhile, some environmental and health advocacy groups interpreted the report’s recommendations for agriculture as too lax.
David Wallinga, senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the fundamental flaw in the White House plan is “the lack of a specific target for reducing antibiotics sales for use in livestock.”
“Without clear and ambitious goals, we are one step closer to a future where we can no longer count on our miracle drugs to work when we’re at death’s door,” he said.
According to the most recent annual FDA report, domestic sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials approved for use in food-producing animals increased by 23 percent from 2009 through 2014, and increased by 3 percent from 2013 through 2014.
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