FDA Limits Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Author: Jennifer Hammond
Published: January 05, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Mention the words livestock and antibiotics in the same breath, and many carnivores like me get a bit uneasy. We want to eat grain-fed, disease-free livestock, not animals pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. However the reality of large-scale livestock operations often necessitates the use of antibiotics to ensure that herds do not carry disease inducing bacteria. So what fine line do we need to tread? How can we keep animals healthy without jeopardizing the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a step towards protecting the efficacy of one important group of antibiotics by restricting their use in animals.

In a report released Wednesday, the FDA prohibited the use of cephalosporins in livestock for extra-label and preventive indications. Related to the antibiotic penicillin, cephalosporins are a large class of drugs which are used for numerous medical conditions including, pneumonia, meningitis, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, skin/soft tissue infections and urinary tract infections. Their value in medicine should not be underestimated. Cephalosporins are relatively inexpensive antibiotics with a myriad of uses, and relatively few toxicities. Infectious disease specialists have long tried to slow the development of resistance to these drugs by common bacteria.

According to Dr. David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minnesota, "This is an incredibly critical class of antibiotics for humans. In the medical world you'd call it a 'big gun' or a 'drug of last resort.' It's effective against a pretty broad spectrum of bacteria."

The FDA's report focuses on the unapproved uses of cephalosporins in cattle, swine and poultry. The new order prohibits the use of cephalosporins for preventing disease in otherwise healthy animals. It also prohibits the use of this class of drug for extra-label (ie non-approved) uses.

What this means is that these drugs may not be used in livestock for purposes other than officially used indications; the drugs may only be used in offically approved doses, dose frequencies and durations of time. 

While the FDA's action is welcomed, many experts are calling it a case of "too little, too late".

According to IATP's Wallinga, “While we welcome FDA’s belated action, the delay is shocking. Tens of thousands of people continued to become ill from cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella when there was clear evidence the extra-label use of these drugs contributes to the spread of these and other resistant superbugs.” Infectious disease experts hope that this order is only the first of many directives which serves to limit the unnecessary use of antibiotics in livestock. 

Image courtesy of Jackie Finn-Irwin


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Article Author: Jennifer Hammond

I am a full-time health professional, part-time blogger and freelance writer. Located in Canada, but interests are global. Interests include health, media, technology, sports, consumer behavior, science and media to name a few.

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