FDA Inaction On Antibiotics Is Making The World Deadlier

Charles Kenny | Bloomberg Businessweek | December 23, 2013

This month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a guidance document (PDF) on the use of antibiotics in farm animals, which accounts for four-fifths of all antibiotics administered in the U.S. The document notes excessive use leads to the spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases in both animals and humans. Meanwhile, the vast majority of agricultural antibiotics aren’t used for high-impact purposes—to treat sick animals—but to promote growth and as a cheap way to prevent infection. The FDA suggests pharmaceutical companies voluntarily change a few labeling and marketing practices to help address that problem.

The FDA’s response to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance is so inadequate that it makes sister agencies dealing with climate, financial instability, and trade challenges look all-powerful. The FDA’s inability to tackle the profligate and destructive use of a vital medical technology reflects a larger failure of international leadership to preserve the life-saving potential of antibiotics for the next generation.

Bacteria remain significant causes of illness and death: In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 19,000 cases of pertussis and 17,000 cases of streptococcal pneumonia in the U.S. But antibiotics have transformed the battle against bacteria and saved millions of lives since penicillin was first used to treat infected wounds in World War II.