September 16, 2011
Industrialized livestock and poultry operations are the major users of antibiotics and related drugs in the U.S. A Food & Drug Administration (FDA) assessment estimated that in 2009, 29 million pounds of antibiotics were given to food-producing animals. These drugs are routinely used at low doses in overcrowded Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to promote growth and prevent diseases that can arise because of crowded and stressful conditions. This use of these drugs, at low doses for non-therapeutic uses, leads to the selection of disease-causing pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics.
Many of the antibiotics used by CAFOs are also important antibiotics for treating infections and diseases in humans caused by pathogens. On September 13, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that found that the FDA and USDA have failed to gather crucial data and research information needed to combat the development of antibiotic resistance in pathogens. The report, entitled Agencies Have Made Limited Progress In Addressing Antibiotic Use in Animals, found that the FDA only collects data on drugs sold for animal use. But the agency does not collect data on which animal species are given the antibiotics or the purpose for their use. In addition, the data collected does not provide a representative sample of animals and retail meat across the nation. Without this data, FDA cannot examine trends and have an understanding of the relationship between antibiotic use and resistance sufficient to protect the public health.
A GAO Report issued in June 2011, entitled Data Gaps Will Remain Despite HHS Taking Steps to Improve Monitoring, concludes that that monitoring of human antibiotic use is also inadequate. The Report also noted that EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey have detected antibiotics used in humans and in animal production in the environment at concentrations that can increase populations of resistant bacteria but that neither agency is monitoring the fate and transport of antibiotics, including their disposal.
The September GAO Report was requested by Representative Louis Slaughter (D-NY), House sponsor of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA)(H.R. 965/ S. 1211). This Act would require FDA to “re-review” the approvals it previously issued for animal feed uses of the seven classes of antibiotics that are important to human medicine. The approvals would be canceled for any antibiotics that are found to be unsafe from a resistance point of view. For more information on PAMTA and the antibiotic resistance issue, see the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Wise Antibiotic webpage.