The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released three new guidance documents that aim to reduce antibiotics in animal feed through voluntary industry limits, giving drug companies three years to phase out the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in food-producing animals.
Cattle, swine, and chicken are routinely given antibiotics to speed growth and prevent infection. Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, commended the FDA for moving forward on the issue, but is disappointed the plan only provides guidance and recommendations.
According Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, more than 18,000 people are now dying every year from the antibiotic-resistant bug MRSA, and that about 80 percent of all antibiotics are used on animals—not humans.
We're facing a major crisis in public health due to antibiotics becoming ineffective in fighting disease, because they have been overused. This problem is urgent. We need stronger, quicker action.
Animals should only get antibiotics when they're sick, Halloran said, adding that the use of antibiotics for disease prevention in healthy animals should not be allowed at all because it inevitably results in overuse. Plus it's not necessary. "This is like giving all children antibiotics every day so that they don't get ear infections."
At the very least, Halloran said, drug companies should not take three years to stop using antibiotics as growth promoters.
As part of our report How safe is that chicken? we took salmonella and campylobacter samples from chickens and determined what percent resisted antibiotics that usually work against those pathogens. Too often, America's food-safety net has holes. For more see What you can do.
Consumers Union on FDA Guidance for Antibiotics in Animal Feed [Consumers Union]