In an attempt to address the growing number of “superbugs,” (bacteria that are strongly resistant to antibiotics) the FDA has enacted voluntary restrictions on antibiotic use in livestock. The US farming industry is pushing back, saying that antibiotics are the reason we have healthy livestock and affordable meat. Others say the voluntary restrictions don’t go far enough. Without mandatory limits on antibiotics, livestock producers may carry on current practices and superbugs will continue to emerge stronger and more pervasive.
Many people are aware of criticisms that doctors prescribe antibiotics too liberally and that this has led to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. But did you know that 80 percent of all antibiotics in the US are given to animals? And farmers do not need a prescription from a veterinarian to administer antibiotics?
Well, the FDA is now asking animal producers to get a prescription. The regulatory agency is also asking producers to stop using antibiotics for non-medical purposes.
Farmers commonly use antibiotics to prevent illness and to promote growth. Antibiotics help the animals better absorb nutrients in feed and beef up faster. Animal health and the cost to produce food could be jeopardized by phasing out non-medical antibiotic use, according to the National Pork Producers Council.
On the other side of the argument, scientists, public health advocates, and others say these practices jeopardize human health and the FDA’s restrictions should be mandatory. But the FDA says outright banning the drugs would lead to a lengthy legal process and voluntary efforts may actually be a quicker solution. The agency seems confident the voluntary initiative will reduce antibiotic use and protect public health.
What do you think? Will food producers be challenged by these new restrictions? Will antibiotic use subside without mandatory regulations?
(For more information about superbugs, read this previous Bizmology post by my colleague Anne Law. Also, check out the First Research industry profile for Animal Production for background information about the livestock industry.)