Legislation Would Push FDA To Investigate Antibiotic Use In Farm Animals

As Americans grow more concerned that the antibiotics being provided to farm animals are resulting in new strains of pathogens that are resistant to these drugs, a group of Senators have introduced legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority to collect data about this controversial practice.

The bipartisan Antimicrobial Data Collection Act, introduced this morning by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Dianne Feinstein (California), and Susan Collins (Maine), calls for “increased data collection by the FDA, enhanced transparency and public awareness of antimicrobial drug use in agriculture and strengthened FDA accountability regarding unsafe antimicrobial drug use.”

Specifically, the legislation would require the FDA to create a pilot program to study the relationship between the sales, distribution, end-use practices of animal drugs containing an antimicrobial active ingredient in food-producing animals and antimicrobial resistance trends.

At the heart of the controversy is the non-medical use of antibiotics in farm animals. While a small percentage of the drugs are administered to remedy illness, the overwhelming majority of these medications are placed in animals’ feed to spur growth, and sometimes as a prophylactic measure for animals that live in incredibly close, sometimes unsanitary conditions. Numerous studies have indicated that these drugs cause bacteria and other pathogens to adapt and become resistant.

The act comes on the heels of reports from groups like the Centers for Disease Control, which recently concluded that antimicrobial resistance costs taxpayers $20 billion in excess healthcare costs, and that the drug-resistant, so-called “super bugs” present a greater risk of death for infected patients.

A recent Consumer Reports investigation of ground turkey products found that while it’s not uncommon to find pathogens in the meat you find at the supermarket, the odds of finding a drug-resistant pathogen in “organic” or antibiotic-free birds are lower.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a public health concern that needs to be adequately addressed,” said Senator Gillibrand in a statement. “Increased data collection, transparency, and accountability are part of a comprehensive solution that will help protect American citizens from drug resistant microbes, saving lives and tax dollars.”

“The routine use of antibiotics in food animals can result in the proliferation of drug-resistant ‘super bugs’ which pose a serious public health threat,” said Ami Gadhia, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union. “This type of information will help us understand how antibiotics are being used in food animal production. Without it, we can’t have an informed public or scientific dialogue.”

In March, New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to effectively ban non-therapeutic use of eight classes of antibiotics. Though the bill has 25 co-sponsors, it’s not a bipartisan effort and stands only a slight chance of even coming up for a vote for the entire Congress.