FDA Reverses Its Order on Antibiotics in Animals

December 23, 2008

In July 2005, the FDA banned the use of an animal antibiotic called Baytril, citing a threat to human health. Baytril, used to treat infections in chickens and turkeys, had caused some strains of bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, both in animals and in humans. Baytril is closely related chemically to antibiotics used in humans such as Cipro. According to NPR, this was the first time the FDA acted to withdraw an animal drug to prevent drug-resistance problems in humans.
In December 2007, a coalition of consumer, environmental, science, and humane groups known as Keep Antibiotics Working wrote to the FDA commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, urging further FDA action. Their letter presented evidence that the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock contributed to the MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) epidemic in Europe, and showed that the effectiveness of antibiotics against deadly bacteria was questionable at best. They cited data that a new strain of MRSA bacteria in pigs was linked to 20% of all human MRSA infections in the Netherlands and Canada, though there are insufficient studies to make that link in the U.S., where MRSA cases have recently surged. The coalition also estimated that 70% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are used as feed additives in chicken, pigs, and cattle.
This past summer the FDA instituted an order banning the off-label use of drugs in food-producing animals, while noting that the same family of drugs was important to treat disease in humans. This fall, the FDA echoed again the same sentiment, taking note of the increasing evidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in cattle. But the FDA’s action met with harsh industry criticism. Pfizer argued that the drugs were essential for preventing disease in animals. Other groups, including the Animal Population Health Institute, the KS Health Department, the National Turkey Federation, and the American Veterinary Medical Association, also criticized the FDA’s ban, which was to go into effect on November 30.
So despite the mounting concern over antibiotic resistance—which is known to endanger human life—on November 25 the FDA revoked their earlier order, to the profound dismay of the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition and researchers like Dr. Stuart Levy at Tufts University, who leads the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics. Dr. Levy has collected a considerable body of evidence to educate his colleagues and consumers about the dangers of the overuse and abuse of antibiotics both in humans and in animal use.
This action and others like it are important reasons to reform the FDA. AAHF has a program in concert with numerous other organizations to create a new and better FDA called ReformFDA.org. Visit www.reformfda.org to sign the petition and learn more information.

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