I was interested to read FoodSafetyNews yesterday morning and learn about the FDA's new count of the number and pounds of antibiotics used to promote the growth of farm animals used as food: 29 million pounds last year alone.
Because this is the first time the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine has produced such a count, it is not possible to say whether the numbers are going up or down. But the agency is now requiring meat producers to report on antibiotic use so we now have a baseline for measuring progress.
The FDA has been concerned about the use and misuse of animal antibiotics for some time now, so much so that in June it issued guidance on "The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals" (PDF).
In the Federal Register notice announcing the guidance (PDF), the FDA explains:
Misuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs creates selective evolutionary pressure that enables antimicrobial resistant bacteria to increase in numbers more rapidly than antimicrobial susceptible bacteria and thus increases the opportunity for individuals to become infected by resistant bacteria. Because antimicrobial drug use contributes to the emergence of drug resistant organisms, these important drugs must be used judiciously in both animal and human medicine to slow the development of resistance. Using these drugs judiciously means that unnecessary or inappropriate use should be avoided....
In regard to the use of antimicrobial drugs in animals, concerns have been raised by the public and components of the scientific and public health communities that a significant contributing factor to antimicrobial resistance is the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in foodproducing animals for production or growth-enhancing purposes.
The overuse of antibiotics in farm animal production was a key focus of the 2009 report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Our conclusion: The overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is an enormous risk to public health and should be stopped. The FDA report may be short and issued without comment, but it is a sign that the FDA is taking steps to address this serious public health problem.
This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.