Doctors Call For End To Fattening Farm Animals With Antibiotics

While the beef, pork and drug industry likes to claim there isn’t enough science to merit a ban on the medically unnecessary use of antibiotics in farm animal feed, the nation’s largest group of physicians doesn’t quite see it that way.

The American Medical Association, which already has a policy on the books voicing its opposition to the use of antibiotics for anything other than therapeutic purposes, recently agreed to adopt a much more stringent policy that goes much farther than urging a phase-out of the drugs.

The AMA’s House of Delegates decided earlier this month at a meeting in Chicago that the new policy will openly support federal efforts (regulatory and legislative) that would ban non-medical use of antimicrobials, and calls for a “strong federal requirement that antibiotic prescriptions for animals be overseen by a veterinarian knowledgeable of the place and intended use of these drugs, under a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

At the end of 2013, and after decades of not doing anything about this issue, the FDA finally released voluntary guidance to the drug industry, politely asking it to please stop selling and marketing their antibiotics — the overwhelming majority of which go to farm animals — and requesting that the drugs only be sold under the supervision of a vet.

However, none of this is actual law, and farmers and veterinarians are free to pay lip service to the guidance by claiming that the antibiotics are being bought for the general purpose of disease prevention. This effectively negates the desired effect of the guidance, which is to curb the abuse of these drugs, which have contributed to the development and spread of drug-resistant pathogens.

Thus, the AMA also calls for an expansion of FDA research and data collection on the use of antibiotics in farm animals and in other agricultural uses like pesticides.

Hopefully, the FDA and others will see that the hands-off guidance given by the agency is not reducing the amount of antibiotics provided to farm animals and not preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant super bugs. As we’ve already seen, some drug companies are still blatantly marketing their antibiotics as growth-promoters.

“This remains an important public health issue with a growing body of evidence that human health is harmed by the prophylactic off-label use of antibiotics in animals,” write the AMA delegates in adopting the resolution.

Advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working applauds the AMA’s decision to strengthen its stance on this matter.

“Timely implementation of this policy will help stave off a future where antibiotics no longer work,” said David Wallinga, MD, a physician on the Keep Antibiotics Working steering committee. “Such a future would mean greater suffering and death for children, cancer patients, transplant recipients, and other patients who need them.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.