April 21, 2017 - GAO Says We Can't Know If Farmers Are Cutting Back on Antibiotics

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Friday, April 21, 2017 - Multiple lines of research have shown that growth promoters allow bacteria in animals' systems to develop resistance to antibiotics. Those bacteria move off farms in wind or water or with animals going to slaughter, increasing the likelihood of drug-resistant infections, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kill 23,000 Americans per year.

When the Food and Drug Administration created controls in January on how farmers can give antibiotics to livestock, scientists concerned about antibiotic resistance and advocates for animal welfare called it a historic shift in how meat animals are raised.

But a new federal report says the long-awaited FDA initiative to make it impossible for livestock producers to use routine micro-doses of antibiotics known as growth promoters, falls short in so many areas that it may not create the change that backers hoped for.

Some “take-aways” from the report:

  • The GAO (Government Accountability Office) says the FDA is not collecting usage data that will allow it to gauge the effectiveness of the regulations. The FDA's usage data relies on sales information given by manufacturers, which contains no details about how the drugs actually are used.
  • The FDA and USDA have not negotiated access to farms that would allow them to see the types and manner of antibiotics being given — even when outbreaks of drug-resistant foodborne illness need to be investigated.
  • The GAO says the FDA has not anticipated the effect of livestock producers switching to "preventive" use of antibiotics — which is still allowed and can also stimulate antibiotic resistance.
  • In 2015, according to FDA data, sales of antibiotics for agricultural use in the US totaled 34.3 million pounds. The agency does not publish comparisons with sales for human use, but it is estimated to be one third of farm use.
  • The lack of attention to preventive use creates a loophole which allows farmers to use antibiotics just as routinely as they did before. One in three antibiotic labels does not specify a duration of use.

Dr. David Wallinga, a senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "The agencies haven't put in place a plan for what they are going to do, and they can't provide one when asked," he said. "They have no target for where they want to go, and they have no metrics for how they will measure progress toward a goal they haven't even articulated."

COMMENT: I wonder how Federal officials are not allowed to inspect antibiotic use on farms but jack-booted State swat-teams in full combat attire can enter a farm to arrest an Amish farmer for selling raw milk.

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