Bill Seeks To Phase Out Over-Use Of Antibiotics In Farm Animals

It’s been almost two years since the FDA asked the farmers of America to pretty please stop pumping up their livestock with antibiotics they don’t need, and yet that amazingly seems to have had no effect. And so today, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York has introduced legislation that would curb the controversial practice.

If enacted — which, honestly, isn’t terribly likely given how much money the pharmaceutical industry makes off this practice — the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act [PDF] would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to effectively ban non-therapeutic use of eight classes of antibiotics — any type of penicillin, tetracycline, macrolide, lincosamide, streptogramin, aminoglycoside, sulfonamide, or cephalosporin.

Drug makers would have two years to withdraw these drugs from the agricultural market, or prove that a drug has “a reasonable certainty of no harm to human health due to the development of antimicrobial resistance that is attributable in whole or in part to the nontherapeutic use of the drug.”

In cases where an antibiotic may be needed for the purpose of actually treating a sick animal, the law would allow it, so long as the antibiotic is given to the animal in such a way that it minimizes the number of animals being given the drug. So that would mean an end to just putting penicillin in the feed for all the cows on a farm.

Around 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to farm animals, and most of that is for the non-therapeutic use of encouraging growth. These drugs sometimes serve a prophylactic use for animals that live in cramped and unsanitary conditions. An increasing number of doctors, scientists and consumers have become concerned that the antibiotics provided to livestock are helping to create new strains of antibiotic resistant pathogens.

The bill comes on the heels of a report from Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control, warning that “our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections.”

“Since 1977, when the FDA acknowledged the threat of antibiotic-resistant disease and called for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in animals, we have been waiting for meaningful action to protect public health,” said Slaughter. “Instead, we’ve gotten delays and half measures, and as a result, even common illnesses like strep throat could soon prove fatal. I’ve introduced this legislation because Congress must act immediately to protect the public health.”

Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, “To stop the spread of superbugs, we need Congress to pass this bill to curb the overuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals. The declining effectiveness of antibiotics has become a national health crisis. One of the reasons we’re seeing a jump in superbugs is the overuse of antibiotics on healthy food animals.”

A 2012 Consumers Union survey found that 86% of consumers would like the option of antibiotic-free meat in their supermarket. Meanwhile, a 2011 study found that around 25% of meat in grocery stores contained drug-resistant pathogens.