The Threat of Antibiotic Resistance: The Use of Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture and Proposed Regulations to Increase the Involvement of the Food and Drug Agency

Jody Ferris, MJLST Staffer

Antibiotic resistance purportedly caused by the immoderate use of antibiotics in animals raised for human consumption is currently a hot button issue in the news today. It is an issue important to human health and to the food and agriculture industries.   In her note, Slowing Antibiotic Resistance by Decreasing Antibiotic Use in Animals, Jennifer Nomura discusses this issue and makes recommendations regarding which government agency should regulate antibiotic use in animals and how it should best be regulated.

According to Nomura, antibiotics that had been used to treat animal diseases are also being utilized for growth purposes. She says that, “it is now common in the United States for farm animals to be fed low doses of antibiotics on a daily basis.” The species in which antibiotic use is most common are pigs and poultry. She states that “[b]ecause farmers have been feeding antibiotics to animals for so many years, animals are becoming resistant to the effects of these drugs.”   She also states that it is also possible for the antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals to pass to humans and that, “as humans become resistant to antibiotics, health care for treatable diseases becomes more costly. Antibiotic resistance can lead to hospitalization, longer-term care, and potentially even death.” However, despite the grave risk that antibiotic resistance poses, Nomura states that “no direct connection has been established” between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans. Some studies have showed a causal link between the two.

Over the course of her note, Nomura argues convincingly that the primary authority for the regulation of antibiotic use is the Food and Drug Agency in connection with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Center for Disease Control, along with the World Health Organization and the European Union. She proposes that the Food and Drug agency should enact a full scale ban on the animal use of any antibiotic that is also used in the human population. Her note also suggests that the Food and Drug Agency should then establish a monitoring program to keep an eye out for any threats posed to human health through the continued use of antibiotics that would not be covered by the ban.

One regulation that has since been promulgated by the Food and Drug Agency since Nomura authored her note, is the Veterinary Feed Directive rule. This rule will require agricultural producers to get prescriptions for the animal use of antibiotics “considered important to human health, such as penicillin or sulfa” (see Nikki Work’s article Veterinary Feed Directive Will Impact Whole Livestock Industry, But Many Aren’t Aware of the Regulation at http://www.greeleytribune.com/news/20358154-113/veterinary-feed-directive-will-impact-whole-livestock-industry#). The rule will be fully implemented on Jan. 1, 2017.

While the above regulation does not go so far as Nomura’s proposal to ban all antibiotic use in animals when the medications may also used for human health purposes, it is a step in the direction of increased oversight of antibiotic use by the Food and Drug Agency. It will certainly be interesting to follow future regulations in this area as they appear on the horizon, and how the Veterinary Feed Directive impacts antibiotic use and food production.

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