MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For the first time the Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of antibiotics in animals because it's a threat to human health. NPR's Richard Knox has details.
RICHARD KNOX reporting:
The antibiotic is called Baytril. It's used to treat infections in chickens and turkeys, and it's a close chemical cousin to human medicines such as Cipro. Farmers put Baytril into poultry drinking water to stamp out infections. That causes some germs to become resistant to the drug. One of those germs is called Campylobacter, which causes human infections that can be serious. When humans get resistant germs from eating poultry, drugs like Cipro won't cure them. Bayer, the maker of Baytril, says there's no proof its drug is causing humans to get resistant germs, but the FDA says drug-resistant Campylobacter is now commonly found on retail chicken and turkey products. Ron Phillips is a spokesman for the Animal Health Institute which represents animal drugmakers.
Mr. RON PHILLIPS (Animal Health Institute): We believe that the loss of this product to poultry producers will leave them without an important tool that's necessary to treat sick poultry.
KNOX: And that, he says, will increase animal suffering. But Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists hope the FDA's action is the first step toward a ban of agricultural antibiotics to make animals grow faster and prevent them from getting sick. This involves a long list of drugs.
Ms. MARGARET MELLON (Union of Concerned Scientists): The drugs that are used in animal agriculture are exactly the ones that are used in human medicine. They're familiar drugs like penicillin, Tetracycline, sulfa drugs, erythromycin.
KNOX: She points out that Europeans have already stopped giving animals antibiotics except for treatment of illness. Phillips, the Animal Health Institute spokesman, was sensitive to the idea the Baytril ban could be a precursor to a wider ban against antibiotic use in animals.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Any speculation about what this means for the future is simply speculation.
KNOX: Mellon acknowledges it will be much harder to make the case that most antibiotic use in animals is causing drug-resistant infections in humans. Richard Knox, NPR News.