Voluntary FDA Approach on Antibiotics Must be Monitored to Avert Public Health Crisis, Says CSPI

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal


The World Health Organization has said that consumers are at serious risk of losing the value of antibiotics in human medicine due to their overuse. Today many antibiotics important for treating humans are actually sold for use in animals. By volume, about three times the amount of antibiotics sold for treatment of humans are sold for use in animals. As two former Food and Drug Administration commissioners have urged, this overuse has to stop as it makes consumers more vulnerable to hard-to-treat pathogens in their food and in the environment.

The FDA finished work today on its voluntary approach to relabeling and restricting the use of many antibiotics in animal production. Unfortunately it requires the drug companies who profit from sales of their drugs to initiate the process. The good news is that the agency has pledged to evaluate levels of compliance and inform the public after 90 days if the drug industry is cooperating with the relabeling effort.

FDA is also putting veterinarians in the role of assessing when antibiotics should be used, and issuing prescriptions. This will help reduce the overuse of antibiotics, though several loopholes in the new Veterinary Feed Directive could undermine progress. For example, the proposed regulation would give states an increased role in defining the veterinary oversight through their licensing and practice requirements, though some states don't have adequate laws regarding veterinary practices.

No one is advocating that sick animals should not be treated. But just as our kids see a doctor to get antibiotics, farmers should call a veterinarian, who can assess whether and when treatment with an antibiotic is appropriate. This simple step could save antibiotics as treatment options for future generations of consumers and farmers.

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