Wednesday, May 16, 2012

FDA Recommends more Judicious use of Antibiotics in Agriculture

So, the FDA recently put out its report recommending that the agriculture industry reduce its use of antibiotics. Specifically, they urge that the use of antibiotics that are also used to treat humans be used more "judiciously."

There are two specific widespread practices that the FDA aims to discourage: 1) the use of antibiotics to make animals gain weight faster, and 2) prophylactic use of antibiotics to prevent the outbreak of a disease, even in the absence of any indication that such an outbreak is likely. Both of these are commonly achieved by feeding animals a constant, low dose of antibiotics in their feed or water. This constant-low-dose scheme is, of course, optimal, assuming that your goal is to maximize the rate at which bacteria acquire antibiotic resistance.

As per the FDA's website, the plan is this: "implementing a voluntary strategy to promote the judicious use in food-producing animals of antibiotics that are important in treating humans," which basically means leaving it up to the food producers themselves. So, you can fully expect that absolutely nothing will happen, and that you will still die a very slow, painful death from a virulent antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection.

Nature Reviews Microbiology has just published an editorial on the topic in which they point out that these steps by the FDA are not nearly enough, and they provide this depressing tidbit:
In 1977 the FDA began a process which could have resulted in a similar ban to that seen in the EU, by issuing notice of their intention to hold hearings into the withdrawal of approval for the use of penicillin and tetracycline in animals. However, these hearings never took place, and in December 2011 the agency announced that these notices had been formally withdrawn. 
Really, FDA? Are you really that incompetent and corrupt? Don't answer that, it was a rhetorical question.

Anyway, here's a strip that appeared last year at Darwin Eats Cake, where Andy and Eleonora debate the use of antibiotics in agriculture. It's from back before I increased the font size, so it is easier to read on the original site.

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