The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a ban on the use of a specific antibiotic class of drugs in livestock. The ban includes certain uses of the cephalosporin class of antimicrobials in cattle, swine, chickens, and turkeys, and becomes effective April 5, 2012.
We routinely discuss the dangers of antibiotic misuse and overuse and how these practices are directly linked to antibiotic resistant diseases that can wreak havoc on the body, and the links between treating farm animals with low antibiotic doses and wide-spread drug resistance. For instance, the historically massive 2011 recall—involving 36 million pounds of tainted ground turkey, 111 reported salmonella illnesses, and one death—involved a bacterium resistant to at least four antibiotics typically used in turkey production. Not surprising given that antibiotics are often given to food animals to quicken growth and compensate for unsanitary, overcrowded conditions.
The new action preserves the efficacy of cephalosporin drugs for human disease while prohibiting its other uses so that cephalosporin resistance in certain pathogens is reduced. When cephalosporins’ efficacy decreases, physicians may have to resort to less efficacious medications or drugs with more serious side effects. The drugs are typically used in humans to treat pneumonia, skin and soft tissue infections, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), diabetic foot infections, and urinary tract infections.
The FDA’s new order prohibits so-called “extralabel” or unapproved uses of cephalosporins in cattle, swine, chickens, and turkeys, the major species of food-producing animals, including using cephalosporin drugs: At unapproved dose levels, frequencies, durations, or routes of administration; in cattle, swine, chickens or turkeys that are not approved for use in that species (e.g., cephalosporin drugs intended for humans or companion animals); and for disease prevention.
In 2008, the FDA issued and revoked an order prohibiting extralabel cephalosporins use in food-producing animals, with no exceptions. The new announcement responds to public comment and includes the following exceptions, which are meant to protect public health while considering animal health needs:
The order does not limit the use of cephapirin, an older cephalosporin drug that is not believed by FDA to contribute significantly to antimicrobial resistance.
Veterinarians will be able to use or prescribe cephalosporins for limited extra-label use in cattle, swine, chickens, or turkeys as long as they follow the dose, frequency, duration, and route of administration indicated on the label and may also use or prescribe cephalosporins for extralabel uses in minor species of food-producing animals such as ducks or rabbits.
“We believe this is an imperative step in preserving the effectiveness of this class of important antimicrobials that takes into account the need to protect the health of both humans and animals,” said Michael R. Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods. The comment period is January 6, 2012 – March 6, 2012. Comments can be entered at www.regulations.gov (input FDA-2008-N-0326 in the keyword box).
Meanwhile, we wrote that the National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, filed a lawsuit against the FDA to put an end to the ubiquitous use of antibiotics in animal feed, saying that this dangerous habit is adding to the issue of drug resistance and superbugs. The lawsuit does not call for change in antibiotics usage for ill animals. The groups called for a ban on the nontherapeutic use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed and to respond to prior petitions seeking this withdrawal concerning other antibiotics.
About 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used in farms to increase animal growth and offset filthy living conditions, the group explained, adding that, because livestock is treated with very low doses of the potent drugs, diseases are not being treated, but bacteria are encouraged to remain, growing more and more resistant. This practice has enabled, and continues to enable, bacteria to outsmart antibiotics and to survive, thrive, and strengthen so that existing drugs are powerless against their eradication.