Several environmental organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), among others, have submitted a citizens’ petition to the FDA asking the agency to withdrawal approvals for the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock and poultry for disease prevention, and growth promotion.
Steve Roach, food safety director for FACT, said the groups support the use of antibiotics when a disease has been diagnosed.
“FACT believes that antibiotic usage is appropriate to treat sick animals, but allowing the use of antibiotics in animals without any signs of illness is totally inappropriate,” he told FeedNavigator. “Preventive antibiotics are often given in low doses to all animals for long periods of time, which has been shown to increase antibiotic resistance.”
The petition specifically calls for an end to the use of macrolides, lincosamides, penicillins, streptogramins, tetracyclines, aminoglycosides and sulfonamides.
“In the last decade, scientific studies have confirmed that: bacteria exposed to livestock antibiotics develop mutations or acquire genes that make them resistant to antibiotics and in some cases more likely to cause disease; bacteria that carry resistance genes can transfer those genes to other, non-resistant bacteria; people who live near or come into contact with farm facilities are more likely to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria and develop antibiotic-resistant infections; and the use of antibiotics in livestock increases the prevalence of resistant bacteria in the environment and the general human population,” noted the communication to the FDA.
Although the FDA has started a voluntary system to end the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion, allowing usage for disease prevention means overall practices and the amount of antibiotic used may not change, noted the petition.
Impending changes to US antibiotic usage include ending the feeding of specific antibiotics for growth promotion or feed efficiency and the implementation of the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which will require a prescription for antibiotics given to production animals.
“Disease prevention, however, accounts for a significant fraction of antibiotic use: both FDA and industry spokespeople now estimate that growth-promotion uses constitute only 10-15% of total use,” said the petition. "Thus, by allowing the continued use of antibiotics for disease prevention, FDA’s voluntary program will fail to reduce livestock antibiotic use significantly, even if members of industry choose to participate in the program.”
Additionally, since the FDA started its efforts to voluntary alter antibiotic use, the amount of antibiotic in animal feed and production has increased, group members said in the petition.
“Use of medically important antibiotics in livestock increased by 3% in 2014 alone,” they said. “Indeed, the data suggest that increases in antibiotic use are outpacing increases in livestock production, and that, on average, producers are using more drugs per animal than they did just a few years ago.”
An FDA spokesperson told us that the agency will “respond directly to the petitioner,” regarding the request.
The group has yet to receive a response to its petition regarding antibiotic regulation, said Roach. “FACT hopes the FDA will agree with our petition and will withdraw the affected uses of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” he added.
The next step for the organizations will depend on what answer is received from the FDA, he said. FACT plans to continue its efforts regarding antibiotic use.
“FACT will continue to engage the FDA either to praise taking the right action or to challenge decisions that fail to fulfill the FDA’s mission to protect public health,” he said.
The petitioners said if pharmaceutical companies voluntarily remove all growth-promotion indications from product labels by 31 December, they will consider withdrawing their request as it relates to growth promotion uses.