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CDC: “unnecessary and inappropriate” antibiotic use in livestock production linked to antibiotic resistant infections

September 17, 2013

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013 draws attention to the harmful public health effects caused by the overuse of antibiotics, particularly in American livestock production.  Antibiotics are used therapeutically in animal agriculture to treat disease, but also non-therapeutically to prevent disease and promote growth.  The Union of Concerned Scientists  has estimated that 70% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are used for the non-therapeutic purposes of growth promotion in livestock production.

Devastating Effects on Public Health

Animals can serve as carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and transmit resistant bacteria to people through the food supply.  According to the new CDC report, at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year in the U.S., and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.  The report is unequivocal regarding the public health impacts of non-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock production: “much of antibiotic use in animals in unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.”  To that end, the report states, “antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infections, not to promote growth.”

Weak Government Oversight

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a voluntary guidance for industry on The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals.  The guidance recommends “judiciously” limiting antibiotic use to those situations (1) considered necessary for assuring animal health, and (2) with veterinary oversight or consultation.  These weak recommendations not only condone non-therapeutic preventive uses, but also they are nonbinding and therefore unenforceable.  And, as House Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) pointed out yesterday in a press release, the industry is likely to ignore them.

Legislative Solutions

The CDC report further supports the need for strong government oversight to protect public health.  Both the “Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act” in the Senate and the companion bill “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” in the House address this need by restricting non-therapeutic antibiotic use in livestock production.  These bills, championed by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Representative Louise Slaughter, have been introduced five times since 2003.  The CDC’s findings underscore the continued importance of these bills.


Categories: Food Safety, General Interest

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