FDA Agrees To Limit Antibiotics In Livestock

The FDA is increasing regulations on a class of antibiotic drugs commonly used by livestock producers. The drugs are great for treating infections in animals and humans. Food safety advocates say the over-use of cephalosporin in animals has contributed to the development of diseases that tolerate the antibiotic.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news: The Food and Drug Administration is publishing an order this morning that limits the way that farmers can use certain antibiotics to treat animals and treat eggs. Cephalosporins are handy drugs for animals and people, but meat producers have been using them in ways that are not approved by the FDA. Today's order signals a change that concerns some farmers who grow animals for food.

Frank Morris of member station KCUR has more.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: There are something like 10 times as many drugs for humans as there are for farm animals, and a whole lot more species of farm animals. So people who depend on raising lots of animals as quickly as possible sometimes have to get creative.

Larry Hollis, a beef veterinarian at Kansas State University, says Cephalosporin antibiotics are useful in ways not spelled out on the label.

LARRY HOLLIS: Some of them are approved, say, for - used to treat pneumonia in cattle, and yet we found, let's say, in dairy cows that they are highly effective in treating uterine infection. That could potentially go away.

MORRIS: Because the FDA is clamping down on the use of Cephalosporins in food-producing animals - prescribed uses only. The FDA says these drugs are critically important for people, especially children, but they risk becoming less effective. The agency has tracked a sharp rise in salmonella-resistant to Cephalosporins in farm animals. It hopes curbing their use will help. But Cephalosporins are just a tiny portion of the antibiotics used in American agriculture - a fraction of 1 percent. Growers do not add them to animal feed, as they do some other antibiotics.

Brett Lorenzen with the Environmental Working Group says that kind of drug maintenance is necessary to keep animals alive in what he says are inherently unhealthy living environments.

BRETT LORENZEN: The analogy that most people understand is when you fly on the holidays, you often come home with a cold. You know, you're in a tube with a bunch of other people for four hours with a closed air supply, and everybody shares whatever virus they're carrying that week. That's how most of the animals grown in America are raised. You know, they're in a closed building with 800 to 1,000 other animals for their entire life.

MORRIS: So routine antibiotic use is built into a system that keeps meat, milk and eggs coming all the time, at lower costs than would otherwise be possible. That's big business, not something that's easy to mess with politically.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUISE SLAUGHTER: Too little, too late.

MORRIS: Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York who has training in microbiology, says the FDA has been lax on antibiotic use in farming for a long time.

SLAUGHTER: They knew in 1976 that they should not be allowing the agricultural use of penicillin and tetracycline. Even though they've known that, all this time, they have not had the courage to eliminate that from farming.

MORRIS: Meantime, she says superbugs have arisen. Slaughter is promoting a bill that would clamp tougher restrictions on giving antibiotics to animals used for food. Larry Hollis sees a different agenda.

HOLLIS: There are people who want to run animal agriculture out of business, and this is one of their ploys. You know, if they can take away the tools that we use to produce with, than they can take us out of production.

MORRIS: The FDA has telegraphed that it wants to wean the meat, dairy and poultry industries off of antibiotics for animals that aren't sick eventually. Many in big ag see that coming, too, but caution that it needs to happen slowly, both for health of farm animals, and for the industry that produces them.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris, in Kansas City.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.