Proposed bill would ban most antibiotic use

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is seeking to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in an effort to curb antibiotic resistance in humans, according to the New York Times.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said in written testimony during a hearing set by the House Rules Committee that feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle to encourage fast growth should stop. Farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian, he added. Both practices lead to the development of bacteria that are immune to many treatments, he concluded.

A measure, proposed by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, resulted in the hearing being called. The measure would ban seven classes of antibiotics important to human health from being used in animals. It would also restrict other antibiotics for therapeutic and some preventive applications.

But the Coalition for Animal Health — which includes the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Meat Institute, American Sheep Industry Association, Animal Health Institute, American Veterinary Medical Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and the United Egg Producers — opposes legislative bans of "important animal health medicines previously approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration."

Programs have been adopted and combined they form layers of protection to ensure antibiotics can keep animals healthy without harming public health. These protective measures include:

  • A stringent approval process made even more stringent by adding risk assessment requirements in 2003. Some compounds affected by the proposed legislation are undergoing review under these new requirements.
  • Post-approval risk assessments allowing policymakers to measure the risks and benefits of a proposed policy have been conducted and published by F.D.A., sponsors and researchers. Additional compounds affected by the bill have been examined by these risk assessments, showing extremely low levels of risk.
  • Food-safety monitoring and surveillance programs established by government agencies and sponsors to track development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Responsible use programs specific to the different livestock species to give producers specific guidelines on how to safely and properly use antibiotics in their health management systems.
  • Pathogen-reduction programs that have successfully led to documented reductions in pathogens on meat, contributing to decreased food-borne illness.

"The bill mirrors the political, not scientific, action taken by the European Union except that it appears to go beyond the Europeans by banning the use of antibiotics to prevent diseases," said a coalition statement. As a result of removing antibiotics for growth promotion in Europe, many European countries have documented a significant increase in animal disease and an increase in the use of antibiotics to treat that disease, the coalition charged.

"Recently published literature shows resistance patterns in humans have rarely declined as a result of this action," the coalition responded. "Europe has jeopardized animal health and has not demonstrated an improvement in human health. Congress should reject this unscientific and unjustified bill that will jeopardize animal health and the ability of U.S. producers to keep their animals healthy."

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