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FDA Issues New Guidance on Farm Antibotics Use

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 14, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The FDA has issued new guidance regarding antibiotic use on farms, but some skeptics suspect that the new recommendations are little more than a smokescreen.

While many have touted this as a victory in the fight against increasing antibiotic resistance, only "10-15 percent" of antibiotic use on farms may be phased out by following the FDA's guidance, reports Forbes. Technically, the "rules" are actually just recommendations, and are not "legally enforceable responsibilities," the FDA explains.

So what does the new FDA guidance on farm antibiotics use actually mean?

Steps to Reduce Antibiotic Resistance

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken various steps to warn consumers about the potential threat posed by antibiotics in our meats, one that is increased by farms' use of antibiotics in meat-producing animals.

The dreaded MRSA and other forms of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are pitted in an evolutionary arms race against pharmaceutical companies that produce antibiotics. The problem is that overuse of our best antibiotics can increase resistance against these "big guns" in deadly germs, so the general mantra seems to be: the less antibiotic use, the better.

Enter the FDA's newest guidelines for farm use of antibiotics, which the agency touts as "lay[ing] out a road map for animal pharmaceutical companies" to voluntarily sign on to restricting certain antibiotics' uses in animals.

The new guidelines propose two major recommendations:

  1. Using antibiotics in animals should require a veterinarian's approval, and
  2. Antibiotics in feed and water should not be used to promote animal growth.

However, as Forbes' Beth Hoffman notes, these changes have "little chance" of actually making a dent in the overall antibiotics used on farms.

Health Use v. Growth Use

The issue lies with the multiple uses that certain antibiotics can have. Although the new FDA guidelines would limit antibiotic use to cases "that are considered
necessary for assuring animal health," most of the antibiotics used by farmers now are recommended to prevent disease.

More than half of the 18 antibiotics which the FDA lists as "critical" or "highly important" for human use are also approved to prevent infection in animals, reports Forbes.

It is also unclear whether farmers needing a veterinarian's approval to obtain the same antibiotics that are now available over-the-counter will prevent farmers from using the drugs. Forbes reports that animal pharmaceutical companies like Zoetis do not believe their sales will be impacted by the new FDA guidance.

New recommendations, yes. Changes? Maybe not.

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