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FDA admits overused agricultural antibiotic poses a 'high public health risk'

Agricultural antibiotics

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(NaturalNews) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labeled ceftiofur, a potent antibiotic used in agriculture, a "high public health risk," according to a Reuters report. The warning was issued due to the frequency of misuse by cattle and dairy farmers which has created a threat to human health.

Ceftiofur residues have been found in dairy cattle and beef cattle brought to slaughter by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors at unacceptable levels. The FDA set the usage levels of ceftiofur low enough that humans won't be harmed by consumption of the antibiotic.

The problem is trace levels of ceftiofur in beef have been found by the FDA to be a reliable indicator that the antibiotic was used shortly before the animal was slaughtered indicating the meat may contain antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" which can lead to severe illness or death for anyone who consumes it.

Economics and food safety collide

Ceftiofur is produced by Zoetis, a company that was spun off from Big Pharma giant Pfizer, Inc., in 2012 and is a conglomerate of agricultural industry companies acquired starting in 1995 with SmithKline Beecham's animal health division and concluded with the acquisition of King Pharmaceuticals in 2011. Eight other companies were acquired in-between, expanding Pfizer's corporate reach to India, China, New Zealand and Australia.

The Reuters report noted that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to livestock, not people. Zoetis' own website shows that they had annual revenues of $4.6 billion in 2013, of which 64 percent of revenue came from farm animal products. At $20 to $100 per dose, depending on the size of the animal being treated, they are clearly a major player in the antibiotics industry.

FDA revised rules on ceftiofur use the same year Zoetis was spun off from Pfizer

In an amazing coincidence, the FDA revised the rules for the use of ceftiofur in 2012, the same year Zoetis was created, from the significantly more restrictive 2008 rules. Specifically, the rule change required stricter guidelines for the use of this cephalosporin antibiotic on cattle, but it also expanded which diseases it can be used to treat. The new ruling has also allowed ceftiofur treatment of livestock, such as sheep and goats, not listed on the product label.

Cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are under strong economic pressure while trying to keep their operations viable. They see ceftiofur as a tool as much as a medicine and use it as such to maximize their profitability. One example from the Reuters report is Hugh Byron, a now-retired dairy farmer from Hillsboro, Kentucky, who has admitted that he used ceftiofur on ailing cows to keep them alive long enough to get them to slaughter.

"Our attitude, most of us, was if (ceftiofur) worked, if it'll save a cow, we'll spend the money," Byron said. "You're talking about a thousand-dollar animal or more."

A cow that he sent to slaughter in 2010 had 5.61 milligrams per kilogram of tissue sample, which is 14 times higher than the FDA[PDF] limit.

Cattle sent to slaughter had ceftiofur levels up to 14 times above the limit

Ceftiofur is a cephalosporin antibiotic in the same antibiotic class as ceftriaxone, which is used to treat such ailments as pneumonia, salmonella and meningitis in children. The result of misuse of ceftiofur is antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, "superbugs," which are not effectively treatable with ceftriaxone or other cephalosporin anitbitotics. In other words, ceftriaxone is much less likely to help children suffering from these illnesses.

"There is a very clear link between ceftiofur use and ceftriaxone resistance," said Paul Fey, a professor of microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. "We know that ceftiofur-resistant salmonella are clearly ceftriaxone-resistant," he told Reuters.

While the FDA struggles to find the balance between economic viability for cattle ranchers, dairy farmers and Big Pharma and "protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs," as published in their 2014 mission statement, the impetus for the public to continue seeking out "clean" food sources, natural remedies for illness, a healthy level of physical fitness and an overall healthy lifestyle has never been stronger.









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