The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Wednesday that it will ask pharmaceutical companies to help phase out the use of antibiotics in factory farming. The move will require animal pharmaceutical companies to revise their drug labels so that antibiotics will no longer be FDA-approved for use as growth stimulants.
The plan would also require changing the drugs’ current over-the-counter (OTC) status in order to increase veterinary oversight of the remaining uses of antibiotic drugs in animals, seeing they are only used when “medically necessary.”
The problem with the FDA’s plan is that it’s completely voluntary; animal pharmaceutical companies get to choose whether or not to revise drug labels. According to the FDA, “Once a manufacturer voluntarily makes these changes, its medically important antimicrobial drugs can no longer be used for production purposes, and their use to treat, control, or prevent disease in animals will require veterinary oversight.”
However, pharmaceutical companies don’t have much incentive to adopt the FDA’s proposed changes. In the United States in 2011, about 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for meat and poultry production in a single year compared to about 8 million pounds sold for the treatment of sick people. About 80 percent of all antibiotic drugs sold in the US are used on livestock and food animals.
Because factory farming involves the inhumane and unhygienic confinement of farm animals, the industry has used antibiotics to combat the unsanitary conditions in which animals are forced to live, as well as to promote unnatural growth in animals. The industry claims that administering “preventative” antibiotics to farm animals is safe.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report on the rise of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in the United States due to extensive antibiotic use in the meat industry. According to the report, at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year in the United States. At least 23,000 people die each year in the US from antibiotic-resistant infections, and many more die from complications of such infections.
According to ThinkProgress, the FDA, which identified the antibiotic problem 35 years ago, admitted that voluntary “guidelines” may not accomplish anything. An FDA internal memo published by PEER states:
We recognize that the voluntary strategy has certain limitations in that (1) it lacks specifically defined/mandated timeframes; (2) its success is dependent on drug sponsors deciding it is in their best interest to work cooperatively with the agency; and (3) FDA collects insufficient data on drug use… to measure the effectiveness of the strategy.