FDA Warned Against Hazards of Curtailing Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Washington, D.C., August 30, 2010 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute submitted comments today on an FDA proposal to limit the use of certain antibiotics in livestock, warning that a ban could unintentionally increase the threat of foodborne illness in the United States.

The FDA draft guidance would prohibit the use of “medically important” antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals such as cows, pigs, and chickens, and would require veterinary oversight for remaining uses. In its comments, CEI warned that “uses of these drugs for growth promotion reduces pathogen loads in animal-derived foods and have a positive impact on human safety, so such restrictions could do more harm than good.”

Antibiotics use in livestock has been criticized by the public health community due to concerns that it contributes to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. However, U.S. government studies indicate that livestock uses account for only about 10 percent of the problem with resistant bacteria and that misuse in human patients is the leading cause of antibiotic resistance.

“Whether you’re talking about human or animal use, banning beneficial uses today can have negative impacts on human and animal health just as surely as a lack of long-term drug efficacy can,” said Gregory Conko, CEI’s Director of Food and Drug Policy. “Instead, we need to balance the current benefits of antimicrobial use against the inevitable development of resistance, and this can include using antibiotics for livestock growth promotion purposes.”

The FDA already regulates animal antibiotic use very stringently and mandates efforts to slow down the development of bacterial resistance. Many governments in Europe have banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, but with little or no effect on the development of resistant bacteria.

“After the U.K., Denmark, and then the entire European Union banned antibiotic use for growth promotion, the incidence of many resistant bacteria increased, not decreased,” said Conko. “Those bans have increased the cost of raising animals and made food more expensive, but they’ve done absolutely nothing to improve public health.”

> Read CEI Comments regarding FDA’s Draft Guidance on the Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals

> Read more on consumer health & safety issues at CEI.org