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FDA limits antibiotics in livestock: Better late than never

In 2010 alone, nearly 54,094 lbs. of cephalosporins were used in U.S. livestock operations, according to recent FDA data.

Used under creative commons license from David W Oliver

Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a ban for unapproved uses of cephalosporins in food animals. Cephalosporins, a class of critically important human antibiotics, are also widely used in livestock and poultry—in 2010 alone, nearly 54,094 lbs. were used in U.S. livestock operations, according to recent FDA data. While some cephalosporins are used in treating sick animals, many more have been routinely given for so-called extra-label use to prevent disease, such as by injecting the eggs meant to hatch chickens that would grow into broiler chickens. The FDA action comes in the face of abundant scientific evidence that extra-label uses have helped to create cephalosporin-resistant bacteria, in animals and also in the food products from them.  

“While we welcome FDA’s belated action, the delay is shocking. Tens of thousands of people continued to become ill from cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella when there was clear evidence the extra-label use of these drugs contributes to the spread of these and other resistant superbugs,” IATP’s David Wallinga said in a press release issued today by the Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW) coalition, of which IATP is a member.

Unfortunately, widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture and the increasingly resistant superbugs it helps to breed are not new developments. While the FDA’s newest ban is indeed a step forward it comes years late, and certainly leaves a lot more work ahead.

How belated is FDA’s action? Well, back in 2008, IATP and KAW submitted comments to the FDA on this very issue, and today’s ban is only the second action the FDA has taken on the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture in nearly seven years (the first coming in 2005). IATP’s Healthy Food Action also led an action in July 2011, urging supporters to write FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to ban cephalosporins once and for all.

Let’s hope the momentum continues and other sources of antibiotic resistance, like antibiotics given to livestock via feed—over 70 percent of all antibiotics administered to livestock, in fact—are addressed before public health suffers even further. 

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