FDA backs off regulation on agricultural antibiotic abuse

Monday, January 02, 2012 by: Tara Green
Tags: agriculture, antibiotics, regulation

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(NaturalNews) Twas three days before Christmas and all through the U.S., people were shopping for last minute gifts. Sneakily into Big Agriculture's stocking, the feds did deposit some deregulation.

On December 22, the Food and Drug Administration quietly announced it would dispense with any regulation of antibiotic use on factory farms. This reverses an anti-livestock antibiotic stance the agency took back in 1977.

Factory farming and antibiotics

Thirty-four years ago, when the switch-over from small to industrial farming was not yet complete, the FDA had an inkling that giving small doses of antibiotics to livestock on a regular basis might result in the creation of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. At that time, the agency issued two notices of opportunity for hearing on this topic. The feds then spent the next three-and-a-half decades forming committees and consulting experts without making any announcement as to formal policy about antibiotic use on livestock farms.

In the meantime, industrial farming grew into the behemoth it is today. Ever larger numbers of animals are stuffed into increasingly smaller spaces, surrounded by their own waste. The livestock are fed antibiotics to keep the filth of the animals' lives from killing the humans that eat them. The FDA's own statistics show that factory farms now account for 80% of antibiotic usage in the United States. Farms which allow livestock to roam unpenned have become rarities so that today "free range" farms, a term that would have been laughably redundant a generation or two ago, have to advertise their difference from industrial practices.

The dangers of antibiotic use on livestock are almost universally acknowledged. The Pew Charitable Trust has a bibliography of the dozens of studies over a more than 40-year period pointing to the looming health crisis created by this agricultural antibiotic abuse. The American Medical Association, no one's idea of an anti-industry radical organization, has even come out against this practice, noting that it can lead to drug resistant infections among humans.

Yet the FDA announced that it will "focus its efforts for now on the potential for voluntary reform and the promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health." Effective industry self-regulation on this issue seems highly unlikely. In 2010, the National Cattleman's Beef Association claimed, in the face of a huge body of scientific evidence to the contrary, that there exists "no conclusive scientific evidence indicating the judicious use of antibiotics in cattle herds leads to antimicrobial resistance in humans."

Timing and politics

The timing of the FDA announcement during the holiday season allowed it to pass largely without media attention. Only Wired Science blogger Maryn McKenna caught the small posting in the Federal Register and a few other news outlets have followed up on her story.

The FDA did leave itself some leeway to pursue the agricultural antibiotic issue at a later date, stating that its recent action "should not be interpreted as a sign that FDA no longer has safety concerns or that FDA will not consider re-proposing withdrawal proceedings in the future, if necessary." Some observers have questioned whether this means the feds wish to prevent large donations from the meat industry to Obama's opponent in the 2012 presidential election.

In the Federal Register notice of its decision, the FDA noted that it is accepting public comments on the issue of livestock antibiotics. You can visit this page;D=FDA-2010-D-0094-0002 to express your opinion.


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