FDA To Farmers: Enough Already With All The Antibiotics

After coming to the conclusion that farmers have gone a little hog-wild with their use of antimicrobials — not to cure animals of disease, but to spur animal growth — the FDA has kindly asked them to cut it out because it’s just going to make the rest of us sicker.

According to the FDA, “the overall weight of evidence available to date supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth enhancing purposes (i.e., non-therapeutic or subtherapeutic uses) in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.”

The agency’s biggest concern is that the overuse of these antibiotics is causing the bacteria and other disease-causing agents to develop resistant strains, thereby negating the drugs’ effectiveness.

“This is an urgent public health issue,” said a deputy commissioner from the FDA. “To preserve the effectiveness [of antibiotics], we simply must use them as judiciously as possible.”

The FDA has issued a draft of its plan to curb the unnecessary use of antibiotics. The public — along with the pharma and farm lobbies — have 60 days to give their feedback.

Regulators are hoping they can get the ball rolling on their plan without too much of a fight:

We have the regulatory mechanisms, and industry knows that… We also think things can be done voluntarily. We’re not handcuffed to the steering wheel of a particular strategy, but I’m not ruling out anything that we can do to establish these important public-health goals.

Not surprisingly, the National Pork Council — taking time away from going after sellers of canned unicorn meat — has basically told the FDA to shove it.

Says a guy who really loves the other white meat:

Show us the science that use of antibiotics in animal production is causing this antibiotic resistance… How do we know [the problem] is not on the human side? Where is the science for you to go forward on this?

He could ask those commie bastards in the European Union, who banned the non-medical use of antibiotics in livestock in 2006.

FDA Issues Draft Guidance on the Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials in Food-Producing Animals [FDA.gov]

FDA seeks less use of antibiotics in animals to keep them effective for humans [Washington Post]

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  1. DianeSaysWORD says:

    YES!!! This is an important step, but the FDA is missing an important detail…the design of feedlots/slaughterhouses, i.e. keeping cows in close proximity while shoving corn and petroleum down their throats while they stand in piles of their own turd that isn’t going to fertilize the grass they should be eating because they’re not on grass they’re in a barn, is going to need to be thrown out too. Those conditions are the reasons why farmers started using antibiotics in the first place, lol. The FDA should be doing more to support grass-fed cattle and beef production, which would not only eliminate the need for the antibiotics, but would give us healthier meat (grass-fed beef has more omega-3′s for one thing).

    So yeah, the FDA’s heart and mind are in the right place, but they’re not seeing the forest for the trees. :

    • Veeber says:

      Antibiotics enabled those conditions. The FDA cannot control the living conditions, maybe that is in the USDA’s capability. But by limiting or banning the use of antibiotics the feedlots would have to be redesigned or they would lose too many cows and then the farmers will have to figure out the most efficient way of proceeding from there.

      • Hakib says:

        Totally agreed. I think the FDA is saying “This is a quick, easy step that is within our power to do, and we can provide the science to back it up… The consequences will be pretty difficult to handle for the meat producers, but will result in healthier food for all of us.”

        However they might be underestimating the fight that the meat companies can put up…

    • Nogard13 says:

      Some cattle, like Angus, are bred for corn consumption. One of the traits that was heavily favored when developing it was the ability to digest more corn. But, that’s not the point. There has to be a balance because there just isn’t enough pasture to raise all the beef that is consumed in the world. A cow needs 12-15 times more land if it’s pastured than if it’s not. So, all the cattle farmers would have to increase their land by 12-15 times, which would include deforestation and other bad environmental impacts.

      This is a good start, but what we really need to do is consume less beef and eat meats that are easier to farm and more environmentally friendly (like pastured chicken and pork, and farm-raised or sustainable fish).

      • jessjj347 says:

        Yeah, I’m really concerned about the environmental degradation that happens.

        And there’s also the whole drug-resistance thing…I’m glad that the FDA is stepping up. They’re so concerned with the pharmaceutical industry, that they’ve been ignoring these major problems in the food industry for years. Maybe they only care because it relates to antibiotics?

        • johnva says:

          This is one of the problems associated with how regulation works in the U.S.: there is very fractured jurisdiction. The FDA doesn’t have the legal authority to regulate agricultural practices outside of a few areas. But this is definitely one area that they do have the authority to regulate, both because it’s a drug and because there are human health concerns.

    • MrEvil says:

      Here in Texas cows spend very little of their time at the feed yard. My dad and I lease our pasture to cattlemen. They graze on our wheat (until March), grass, heck they’ll even chow down on weeds. They’ll stay with us for several months when we have the forage, able to roam about freely. Most cattle around here only spend the last month or so on a feed yard.

  2. headhot says:

    Oh, now these mid western conservative farmers believe in science!

    • PsiCop says:

      Well, sure they believe in science. Everyone does. They just ignore it when they feel entitled to do so.

      More generally … when it comes to government and business, science is just like anything else; a mere tool they use to get their way. They’re happy to embrace it when it serves them to do so (or when they perceive it does so), but just as happy to condemn it, if it doesn’t (or again, if they perceive that it doesn’t).

    • sticksnbricks says:

      Remember, those mid western conservative farmers don’t exist anymore. These farms are corporate owned. They believe in making money for shareholders, and nothing else.

    • scoccaro says:

      um.. yeah… we do.

  3. Suisei says:

    Yet another reason I am happy my meat intake is quite limited (though I may be getting my fair share of Mercury from all the fish I cannot stop myself from eating).

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      My wife and I used to eat a lot of seafood, until she was pregnant with our first child. Going through the various lists of safe fish and how often they can be safely consumed in a month really struck home at how contaminated our food supply really is.

  4. qbubbles says:

    Yeah, the NPC is really pissing me off, lately.

  5. BurtReynolds says:

    Any blow to the corporate “feedlot” style of producing animal protein in a plus in my book for the American diet. People like their cheap steak too much to realize the dangers of these anti-biotics.

    • ARP says:

      You assume that they will change their feedlot methods. I think you assume wrong. Most likely, there will be more recalls. They will also like use other means to sterilize meat. They currently use ammonia and are looking at radiation.

      • johnva says:

        But controlling contamination is not the primary reason they are using the antibiotics…instead, they’re using them to promote rapid growth.

        Anyway, if there were enough costly recalls, they would look at changing their practices.

    • ghostfire says:

      I agree – the hidden cost to our health ultimately, from drug-resistant bacterial diseases, as well as eating beef and chicken that’s cheaper or the same cost as fresh vegetables, is not something people factor in when looking at the receipt at the grocery store.

  6. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    What with the anti-vaccine propaganda flying around these days, it’s not a miracle that many of the farmers are unacquainted with germ theory and the role of antibiotics in breeding superbugs. You’d think that having to buy newer, stronger shit to feed the cattle, because the old stuff isn’t working anymore, should clue them in, but apparently not.

  7. nbs2 says:

    And this is why I get my milk delivered from the farm where I can see the cow pastures, see them being milked, feed the calves, and know that antibiotics are used sparingly when a cow is sick (in addition to regular medical treatments and quarantine to minimize the use of medicine).

    Our meats come from other pasture (or otherwise similar as applicable) raised farms. And again, we can visit the farm whenever we want.

    Not many good reasons to have a 4 hour rt commute, but this is one of them.

  8. PencilSharp says:

    Well, now. Thank sweet creamery Jebus that the FDA finally figured this out. Subtherapeutic antibiotics was a bad idea for everyone except farmers hoping to get an extra few pounds per head. Those drugs go from cow stomach to cow meat to meat eater to meat eater’s meat to the public sewer to our rivers and streams, encouraging even stronger superbugs that will bite our grandkids in the heinie.
    I do, however, have one question:
    Hey, Chris! Where’d you find the pic of my second ex-girlfriend?

  9. Green Beer Day says:

    To those who think grass-fed beef is the way to go, there is absolutely not enough pasture land in this country to support the number of cattle needed to supply demand. Give that argument up already.

    • Solenoid says:

      The solution to that is not to increase production, but decrease consumption. Personally, I would rather spend more on less of a high quality product than get ground meat out of a tube. I don’t understand why people are willing to pay extra put premium gas in their cars, but are not willing to pay extra to put premium food in their bodies.

      American’s eat far too much meat, in part, I suspect, because it is relatively cheap. An increase in the cost of meat, coupled with a shift in subsidies from corn and soy (cattle feed) to grains and produce (human feed) could be a functional social engineering project to improve public health. The concomitant increase in the quality of the feedlot-free meat is just a fringe benefit

      • johnva says:

        Exactly. There would be PLENTY of land if we weren’t eating an absurd amount of beef, collectively. Meat could be an expensive luxury that we eat every once in a while, not every day.

        I don’t think that’s too much to ask. You actually enjoy it more when it’s a special thing instead of a routine thing.

        • pantheonoutcast says:

          It IS too much to ask when individuals have preferences which supersede the anti-beef agenda, however. I can’t speak for all meat-eaters, but I can’t sit down to a plate of rice and veggies and feel satisfied afterward. Personally, I think chicken is boring, pork is bland, and cooking fish in a tiny apartment makes the entire apartment smell like Sea-World.

          that being said, I’d rather pay double for beef (and veal and lamb) that is healthy and pure, without a lot of chemicals or other such additives. I’m not sure how much I trust the whole “organic” label, though, so I go to a good butcher and take my chances.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            If you think chicken and pork are boring, you’re not cooking it right. There’s a lot you can do with both of those to have a lot of flavor.

            • pantheonoutcast says:

              I know I’m not cooking it right…I need a pit barbecue, a spit, and 11 hours.

            • Brunette Bookworm says:

              Or you are buying grocery store, industrialized meat. Pork and chicken, like grass-fed beef, does have more flavor when they are pastured. Just look at eggs from chickens allowed to eat what they normally eat. Their yolks are dark, almost orange, and full of flavor.

              And yes, Americans do eat much too much meat. You can eat beef but take ideas from Asia where beef is there to add flavor to the veggies and rice but isn’t the main star. You don’t need a 12+ oz. steak at every meal. We don’t need a hamburger at every meal. Look at how much beef is available cheaply everywhere, every day. McDonalds, BK, Taco Bell, etc. There are other places to get protein than beef. Beans and other legumes are good for you. Combine them with grains such as corn or rice and you have a great meal.

              • johnva says:

                Not to mention that once you start varying your diet a little more, and branching out from just eating meat all the time, you’ll come to appreciate those things more. They won’t seem as “boring” once you realize that there are plenty of good things available that aren’t based on meat, and are used to the change. Conversely, I’ve found, the occasional beef that I do still eat tastes so much better to me now that it’s a rare treat rather than a ho-hum, everyday thing. And since I don’t eat it often, I can easily afford to buy absolutely top-quality meat when I do want it.

              • Dallas_shopper says:

                I agree completely. Americans eat way too much meat (so do many other westerners), it’s disgusting and unhealthy.

                We have at least a couple of meat-free dinners per week and I am trying to eliminate some other meat servings throughout the week. I’m still learning and building a repertoire of healthy vegetarian cuisine. I want us to become what are called “Flexitarians”, i.e. people who do eat meat but not much and can easily adapt their cooking to replace meat with some other type of protein.

          • johnva says:

            I don’t have an “anti-beef agenda”. I do have an agenda against low quality food and agricultural practices that harm human health. But I love to eat beef, and other meat, too.

            Regulation DOES sometimes raise the price of things we buy. But that is NOT a bad thing. It just means that the price is actually being forced to reflect more of the costs of mitigating impacts on society that would otherwise be externalities for the producers. I’d rather pay more for beef than not have antibiotics work when I need them in order to live, or live in a world where half my country is contaminated by irresponsible cattle farming. Those things have costs too, so we shouldn’t be focused so single-mindedly on lowering the price of a single product.

            • pantheonoutcast says:

              There was no inflammatory intent in my using the phrase “anti-beef agenda,” by the way. It was the only thing I could come up with before my first cup of coffee.

              We’re on the same page here, especially regarding the issues of regulation and science.

              • johnva says:

                OK, then.

                Like I said, I’ve got no problem with people wanting to eat more beef than I do. I just think that they should pay more for that privilege if their consumption of cheap beef is hurting the rest of society somehow.

          • ARP says:

            Agreed, but like many other things we consume, we should understand the true cost and its impact. Corn subsidies, and heavy use of antibiotics and hormones all have health and price costs. Or, to ask in a angry libertarian way, why am I paying extra taxes so you can eat too much bad meat?

            Perhaps another way to do it is to put this information on the label. What it was fed, antibiotic and hormone use, and living conditions. This would also go to your Organic label concerns (which the FDA should be involved in). Granted, most people will still pick what’s cheapest, but at least they know what they’re buying.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Antibiotics has nothing to do with grass fed cattle, though. Antibiotics and hormones contribute to the size of the cow, the amount of meat it can be forced to provide through chemical intervention, and the amount of disease it can resist.

      Grass fed refers to the type of food the cattle are given – whether pasture, corn-based, or otherwise. It contributes to growth in a different manner, but pastured cows can still be pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. This is it’s important to look for hormone and antibiotic-free beef and poultry.

      I’m more concerned by the antibiotics and the hormones than I am about grass fed vs. corn fed. I’ll only buy grass fed meat if I know it’s also free of hormones and antibiotics.

      • johnva says:

        That being said, heavy use of antibiotics IS associated with feedlot-style agriculture. “Grass fed” alone doesn’t mean they aren’t using them, but it does mean it’s less likely.

  10. johnva says:

    It’s about time the FDA got around to doing this. I mean, antibiotic resistance is really a looming crisis, and a huge proportion of antibiotic use is purely so that we can have cheaper meat. I’d rather that meat double or even triple in price and have the antibiotics still work when I really need, thanks. It would also probably indirectly help animal welfare.

    Contrary to the pork people, I’m pretty sure I’ve read that there is very solid science showing that agricultural sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics is contributing heavily to drug resistance in community-acquired bacterial infections. So I say drop the hammer on them, FDA. If it forces them to completely alter their practices, tough.

  11. Mecharine says:

    They want the science behind antibiotic resistance? Are they dumbasses? Why the fuck are hospitals scrambling to stop super-staph infections by reducing antibiotics? Seriously ,Pork Council, shove a piece of unicorn meat in that mouth, you’ll sound less stupid.

  12. Febryle says:

    Thanks, Chris, for calling attention to this story. I’m a physician and this has been a thorn in many doctors’ sides for quite some time.

    This issue has actually been pending in front of congress for a while, sponsored by Louise Slaughter, a congresswoman and microbiologist. It’s called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA.

    The Agriculture industry is convinced that widespread use of antibiotics as food promoters results in increased yields and therefore lower prices. The “Big Ag” lobby has relentlessly opposed curtailing use, even though the data are scant that it makes a big difference.

    A few links your readers may be interested in:
    http://www.louise.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1315&Itemid=138

    http://www.saveantibiotics.org/index.html

    The argument against:
    http://www.agnetwork.com/Straight-Talk-On-PAMTA/2010-03-25/Article.aspx?oid=1027006&fid=AN-LATEST_NEWS

  13. Dallas_shopper says:

    This is just common sense. Misuse of antibiotics breeds resistant bacteria. It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.

  14. johnva says:

    As a side note, the existence and increase in prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria is a very vivid example of how the theory of evolution impacts our lives in a concrete way. Here we see an example of an extremely important policy question that is directly related to an understanding of the science of evolution. And that’s why I think it’s important that any candidate for high public office understand and “believe in” (ie, not engage in anti-intellectual, anti-scientific denialism) the theory of evolution. Electing religious zealots is simply a bad idea, and here’s a concrete example of why their type of thinking leads to bad decision-making on public policy. (I don’t have a problem with people being religious, but they need to understand and acknowledge the distinction between their religious beliefs and scientific reality.)

    This is also a reason why I think it’s a bad idea to elect fanatical anti-regulation crusaders to important public offices. Now, because we have an Administration that is not opposed to all regulation, we’re getting some movement on some of these important policy issues independently of the paralyzed legislative branch of government. Republicans need to return to sanity on regulation and science before they can be considered a viable option as a party again.

  15. Drywall says:

    For those who want to file a comment with the FDA (presumably in support of this regulation if you’re reading the Consumerist, but hey, to each his own), head here:

    http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#submitComment?R=0900006480b0c78d

  16. brinks says:

    As the first comment by DianeSaysWORD mentions, antibiotics are used because animals are kept in such horrific, filthy conditions that they’d never survive otherwise. They’d be passing stuff back and forth and dropping dead. There’s a group in Ohio circulating a petition to get a measure on the ballot that would improve living conditions for farm animals. One of the most disturbing things they want is that if an animal is too weak to stand, it can’t be used as meat. Because it COULD be?

  17. Kevin411 says:

    Situations like those described here, along with looking to lose weight and improve my cholesterol numbers, are why I switched to a vegetarian lifestyle 7 weeks ago. I am LOVING it. I feel better, I’ve almost eliminated caffeine at the same time and don’t miss it either. I’m convinced it is the contaminants in our meat and meat products that are causing many subtle human problems like fatigue and digestive issues. I was only going to do this for a couple weeks to kick off a less dramatic shift in my diet, but I can’t imagine going back now. If I one day do let some amount of meat in my diet, it will be carefully selected.

    For context, I am 40 and weighed 330 lbs last winter, had smoked for 20 years (quit just a year ago) and had a very sedentary lifestyle. I’m down about 40 lbs. this year and my cholesterol numbers last week were finally in the ideal range. My BP was 109/71. I spend my free time hiking in the mountains and practicing for a 5k. I’ve never had this energy on meat. I encourage everyone to read up on proper vegetarian eating—I’m probably getting more protein now than before—and to give themselves 30 days of it just to realize the difference it makes. And you DON’T have to shop at Whole Paycheck to do it.

    • AuntieMaim says:

      Congratulations! Those are some great accomplishments. Really amazing. I hope you’re very proud!

  18. zifnab0 says:

    I’m glad to see that so many people are willing to tell me how to live my life, what to eat, what light bulbs I should use, and otherwise eager to control every aspect of what I do.

    I would be a lot more excited if that number of people were willing to express belief in freedom and personal choice.

    If you don’t like beef, don’t buy it. I will continue to purchase my cheap beef and pork products.

    • TheFingerOfGod says:

      “I’m glad to see that so many people are willing to tell me how to live my life. . . .”

      Given your reactionary comment and the arguments presented in the article it sounds like it is about time SOMEONE did don’t you think?

    • johnva says:

      I want these regulations because I LIKE beef, and I want to be able to continue eating it without the production of it breeding drug resistant bacteria.

  19. muadib says:

    I can’t speak for the big corporate farms up north, but I can speak for small family farms/ranches around my area in North Texas. I grew up on my families farm/ranch and plan to go back some day. They cattle really don’t get that much medicine. They will get a couple of round of vaccines when they are young (3-5 months old) and another set later on before being put on green wheat pasture. After that once they are fatter or the grazing is gone, they will be sent out to feedlots usually. They only spend a couple of months there and the one that we send them too actually has nice facilities. They don’t spend all day wading in their feces like some people seem to think here. More modern facilities are designed to keep this sort of activity down using slopes and regular cleaning/pen rotations. They even use organic pest control methods (read parasitic wasps for flies). I don’t know for sure what all medicines they are put on while in the feedlot, but I know that if they are given the doses some people are claiming then we wouldn’t be putting cattle in the feedlot. Not because I think the medicine is bad, but because it would increase the cost too much.

    I’ve seen every step of what goes into getting beef on the table. I’ve been there when they were born, while they played as calves, to when they stand chewing their cud fat and content at the last of their days. After seeing all this, I can sit down and enjoy a thick juicy steak ahh… nothing better.

  20. ultra1bob says:

    The corporate farms need the antibiotics since they feed the animals food that is not natural to them – and it gets them sick. Cows do not eat corn naturally, not to speak of cow and chicken parts. They should eat grass. So, with all the corn, they need antibiotics.

    The animals are near death anyway by the time they are slaughtered (no pun intended – the animals are sick at the time of death). If you study the issue, hamburgers will be less appealing.

    Expect any attempt to reduce antibiotics to be fought furiously. It’s profits over health.

    • muadib says:

      Umm… yes and no. Yes they do feed the cattle food that is not natural to them in the quantities fed. All this talk about the cattle needing antibiotics because of being fed is false. At least, I can’t see proof of it anyways. You are correct in that a large amount will git sick though not from something that can be treated by antibiotics.

      What the cattle really get sick from is acidosis. I remember in a feeds and feeding class I took where the teacher told us that if some of the cattle weren’t getting acidosis, then they weren’t feeding them enough corn. This is actually one reason why I would like to switch over to grass fed beef. Oh and the treatment for acidosis, isn’t antibiotics it’s mostly baking soda to reset the ph balance in the stomach. Don’t get me wrong, if cattle get sic from bad bacteria, they will get antibiotics to make them healthy again, it’s just not something all of them will get in high quantities.

      For more info on acidosis: http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/pdfs/bch/03500.pdf