July 16, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Among the problems with our country’s system of meat production is the routine use of antibiotics in livestock. Dosing the animals regularly helps them grow faster and survive cramped factory-farm conditions, which means cheap, abundant meat for consumers. The problem is that overusing antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance. Cheap meat doesn’t seem like such a bargain when more and more people are dying from antibiotic-resistant infections.

Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009 (HR 1549), which would ban animal uses of seven classes of antibiotics important to human health, and restrict the uses of other antibiotics in animals. The New York Times’ Gardiner Harris reports that opposition from the farm lobby makes this bill unlikely to pass on its own, but that the measure could be included in health reform legislation.

In a hearing about the bill, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Principal Deputy Commissioner at FDA voiced the Obama administration’s support for curbs on the use of antibiotics in livestock:

FDA supports the idea of H.R. 1549 to phase out growth promotion/feed efficiency uses of antimicrobials in animals. The current statutory process of withdrawing a new animal drug approval is very burdensome on the agency. FDA recommends that any proposed legislation facilitate the timely removal of nonjudicious uses of antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals. At the same time, FDA believes that legislation should permit the judicious use of antimicrobials in animals for prevention and control …

Antimicrobial resistance is an important public health issue that can only be addressed by collaborative efforts of the relevant Federal agencies, state health departments, and the private sector. FDA looks forward to working with Congress on this important public health issue.

Maryn McKenna at Suberbug has more on the hearing, including an observation that the Pew Commission on Human Health and Industrial Farming doesn’t think Scharfstein’s position goes far enough. Still, it’s great to have a member of the administration acknowledging this important public health issue and expressing a willingness to take steps toward a solution.

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