New FDA antibiotics policy appears toothless

Photo by Farm Sanctuary via Flickr

As Tom Philpott at Mother Jones reported recently, a couple weeks ago the FDA announced new steps to limit the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. This announcement comes on the heels of other FDA antibiotic news several months ago; see my prior posts for details. This latest announcement hasn’t been any more well-received by those pushing to limit the profligate use of these medications in animals headed for slaughter. As Philpott writes,

Currently, antibiotics have three uses on factory livestock farms. The first is growth promotion. For reasons that are little understood, when animals get small daily doses of the the stuff, they grow faster. The second is disease prevention. When you stuff animals together in filthy conditions, they tend to get sick and pass diseases among themselves rapidly. So the industry likes to dose them regularly to keep them from getting sick. The third use is disease treatment—an animal comes down with a bug and gets treated with antibiotics.

So the FDA is stating its intention to phase out the first use and leave the other two intact. But preserving the second use, prevention, leaves a gaping loophole. First of all, how can anyone distinguish giving animals small daily doses of antibiotics to prevent disease from giving them small daily doses to promote growth? The industry can simply claim it’s using antibiotics preventively and go on about its business—continuing to reap the benefits of growth promotion and continuing to menace public health by breeding resistance.

Also, by preserving “disease prevention” as a legit use, the FDA allows the industry to keep on throwing pharmaceuticals at—instead of forcing it to clean up—filthy and cramped conditions that allow bacterial pathogens to thrive on factory farms.

Then there’s the voluntary part. I mean, uh, the program is voluntary. As in, optional. The vet-pharmaceutical industry exists to sell its products; the meat industry enjoys the antibiotic-soaked status quo. What’s the incentive to change?

For more, check out Philpott’s full post here.

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