FDA’s Step To Limit Animal Antibiotics Symbolic–Animal Husbandry Issues Must Still be Addressed

Ralph Loglisci | Civil Eats | December 13, 2013

In 1977, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) let everyone know that there was strong evidence that the use of penicillin and tetracycline for anything other than treating disease in livestock, could lead to the development of super bugs strong enough to render the powerful antibiotics useless in people. That warning sparked a ferocious backlash from the powerful animal agriculture industry, which to this day still depends on feeding animals low doses of antibiotics to help grow them faster and compensate for crowded unsanitary living conditions.

Now, nearly 40 years later the embattled agency has finally mustered the courage to approve a strongly worded recommendation for producers to stop using medically important antibiotics as growth promoters and to give veterinarians oversight over therapeutic uses of the life-saving drugs. 

But perhaps FDA’s announcement isn’t so brave after all. The same animal agriculture groups that so loudly protested FDA’s stance on antibiotic use for decades came out in support of the guidance Wednesday afternoon. Many of these groups, which ranged from the Pork Producers and National Chicken Councils to animal drug makers owned by Eli Lilly and Pfizer and the industry friendly American Veterinary Medical Association, worked closely with the FDA to draft the guidelines.

Not surprisingly, the recommendations do little to address the reasons why industrial-scale farms rely so heavily on antibiotics. Instead, they’ve come up with a complicated voluntary process that may in the end do little to save the effectiveness of antibiotics for both people and animals.