“Environmental and consumer groups have condemned the US Food and Drug Administration’s move to renege on its long-held policy to regulate the use of human antibiotics in animal feed.
Last week, the agency quietly announced it was withdrawing its plan to limit the use of antibiotics fed to healthy livestock intended for human consumption.
Critics say the U-turn, which comes amid the FDA’s own stated concerns over food safety, is at odds with its obligations to protect the public.
The groups also criticised the timing of the announcement, which was made during the holiday season and disclosed only in the federal register.
The use of low doses of antibiotics in agricultural animal feed contributes to drug-resistant superbugs, according to food and health experts.
One leading food policy writer described the policy reversal as “pathetic” and “dismaying.”
“It’s dismaying, and obviously something they felt sheepish about, otherwise it wouldn’t have been released this week,” Michael Pollan, author of the Onmivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, told the Guardian.
“When Margaret Hamburg became the head of the FDA, she indicated this was a high priority for them and that she realised how much of a problem the profligate use of antibiotics was. She said she was going to treat this issue as if her hair was on fire. This isn’t the way someone acts when their hair is on fire.”
Pollan said there was “no question” that meat could be produced without human antibiotics, as the EU has already banned them.
The FDA first acknowledged in 1977 that the overuse of antibiotics in healthy livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention was unsafe and could promote antibiotic resistant bacteria that could infect people. An advisory committee at the time recommended that the FDA immediately withdraw approval for two drugs, penicillin and tetracycline, for subtherapeutic uses of the drugs in livestock.
Last week, in a statement in the Federal Register, the FDA says it plans instead to allow the industry to self-regulate and “focus its efforts for now on the potential for voluntary reform and the promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health”.
The problem, said Pollan, boils down to a lack of political will in the face of powerful industry interests. “There’s a lot of corporate money in politics these days,” he said. “Here you’re going up against not just one powerful industry, but two. This administration has had enough trouble going after individual powerful industries. That they would prevail against two of them joined together was too much to hope for.”
Livestock consume about 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US….”