WASHINGTON – Four US Senators called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to increase data collection on the use of antibiotics in agriculture.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa); Kirsten Gillibrand (D.-NY); and Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) wrote a letter of FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking the agency to propose a rule to increase data collection and develop a plan to estimate on-farm antibiotics use practices.

"We applaud your agency’s recent step to issue improved, more transparent reports on annual food animal antibiotic drug sales and distribution data," the legislators wrote. "However, we are disappointed to learn that your agency has decided to delay proposing a rule that would further enhance data collected on this topic until next year, when the Office of Management and Budget estimated the rule would be released in 2014."

Both federal and state governments, research, industry and consumer groups have grappled with the challenge of how best to address the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria:
• In September, President Barack Obama ordered the US government to create a national plan to fight antibiotic-resistant organisms by 2015. Obama signed an executive order that formed a government task force and presidential advisory council to focus on the issue.

• In October, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have sharply curtailed the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry because the bill duplicated FDA guidance.

• More recently, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) created task force on antibiotic resistance in agriculture.

Meanwhile, some members of Congress believe FDA hasn't gone far enough to track antibiotics use in animal agriculture. In their letter to Hamburg, the Senators said improving the stewardship of how antibiotics are used and surveillance of antibiotic resistance must be national priorities.

"Data on antibiotic use and resistance enables federal agencies to take action to protect the public health and supports research into better understanding complex questions related to the development of antibiotic resistance and potential links to human health," the Senators said in their letter. "Furthermore, data regarding the distribution of medically important antibiotics is needed to monitor the impact of your new policies aimed at eliminating the injudicious use of these drugs in agriculture. We particularly hope this proposed rule will allow your agency to collect more specific data on how different antibiotics are used in different species and for different indications."

The full text of the letter is available online.