FDA Issues Voluntary Plan to Reduce Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals

The FDA issued a statement on December 12, 2013, announcing its voluntary plan to decrease the use of antimicrobial drugs on consumable farm animals. The issue, according to the Agency, is that antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, cause bacteria to evolve and become more drug resistant. These drug resistant bacteria, also known as antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals, can potentially lead to an increase in bacteria-related deaths, as medicines used to treat such illnesses become less effective.

According to the FDA, antimicrobial drugs are commonly used in animal feed and water to increase animal growth and feed efficiency. The FDA’s guidance, which sets forth recommendations for drug producers to voluntarily follow the FDA’s plan, seeks to limit the use of antimicrobial drugs on animals to only necessary situations, as recommended by a veterinarian, and as opposed to its current widespread and unnecessary use on entire populations of livestock.

The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine’s (CVM) director, Burnadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. noted that the plan “promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials, which protects public health and, at the same time, ensures that sick and at risk animals receive the therapy they need.”

However, not everyone shares the FDA’s belief that the voluntary plan will prove effective. Avinash Kar, an attorney at the environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, issued a statement arguing that the “FDA’s policy is an early holiday gift to industry. It is a hollow gesture that does little to tackle a widely recognized threat to human health.” According to Kar, the “FDA has essentially followed a voluntary approach for more than 35 years, but use of these drugs to raise animals has increased.”

Conversely, William Flynn, the CVM’s deputy director for science policy, noted that the FDA determined a voluntary program was the most efficient way to make the necessary changes to reduce antibiotic use in farm animals, after working and consulting with numerous drug companies, associations in the feed industry, livestock producers, veterinarians, and consumer groups. Flynn noted, “Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort.”